There were emotional scenes at the Capitol in Albany Thursday as New York state lawmakers narrowly voted to end religious exemptions for vaccinations. Hundreds of opponents, many of them with young children, shouted from the gallery as lawmakers in the Assembly voted 77 to 53 to pass the bill, which needed 76 votes to proceed, the New York Times reports. The measure, which passed the state Senate 36 to 26, was immediately signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said it was a necessary step toward ending a measles outbreak. "The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way to keep our children safe," Cuomo said. "While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health." The bill also eliminates other nonmedical exemptions for New York schoolchildren.
The state's department of health says a total of 26,217 students in the state had religious exemptions during the 2017-18 school year, the Times reports. New York is the epicenter of America's worst measles outbreak in decades, the Washington Post reports. Authorities say 74% of the measles cases reported in New York City have been in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, which has a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish population with low vaccination rates. "I'm not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated," said the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. "If you choose not to vaccinate your child," he said, "you're the one choosing not to send your children to school." (Jessica Biel has clarified her stance on vaccination.)