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State orders tighter standards for medical exemptions for vaccines

ALBANY — The state on Friday ordered stricter regulations to physicians and more explicit guidance to schools and day care centers before medical exemptions can be provided to parents who don’t want their children vaccinated for diseases such as measles.

The directive comes as the heated, nationwide battle over mandatory vaccinations continues to be played out in courts and protests.

Some parents who fear vaccinations pose a threat to their children have long sought religious and medical exemptions from the vaccinations. But a state law enacted this year and effective in the coming school year removes the religious exemption, putting more pressure on parents to secure a physician’s support to keep their children from being vaccinated as a requirement to attend school or day care centers.

Other parents, school and government officials warn a failure to immunize the vast majority of students weakens a community’s ability to fend off outbreaks, such as the recent measles outbreaks in a few communities nationwide.

New York is in the midst of the biggest outbreak of measles in 25 years, with nearly 1,000 cases reported in the state, mostly in New York City and Rockland County.

 “These regulations will ensure that those who have legitimate medical reasons for not getting vaccinated are still able to obtain medical exemptions, while also preventing abuse of this option by those without such medical conditions,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner.

On Thursday in Albany, a hearing was held on a request for a preliminary injunction against the law that repealed the religious exemption. A decision could be weeks away.

Friday’s order directs physicians to outline specific justification for each required vaccine in order to recommend an exemption. Previously, physicians only had to submit a signed statement without providing documentation as to how a vaccination would threaten a child’s health.

Schools and day care centers are also being issued a handbook on how to comply with the law. The handbook is also available to parents.

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