New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill ending religious exemptions for vaccines immediately after both legislative chambers voted to send it to his desk Thursday.
The bill, which removes allowances for parents of school-aged children who have a religious objection to immunizations, goes into effect immediately. Cuomo’s signature comes as the U.S. struggles through its worst measles outbreak in decades, with more than 1,000 cases spread across 28 states so far in 2019.
“While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.
The issue of religious exemptions is especially prevalent in the state, which has a large Orthodox Jewish population. Cases have been concentrated among children of that faith, of which many of the members interpret Jewish law to ban vaccines.
In total, about 26,000 students in New York schools had religious vaccine exemptions last year, The New York Times reported.
The measure is overwhelmingly popular among voters. On Monday, the Siena College Research Institute released data showing that 84% of New Yorkers favored ending the exception. This percentage has risen by 6 points since April, the polling institute found.
Sen. Brad Hoylman (D) and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz (D), who both sponsored the bill, had urged its passage for the safety of children with compromised immune systems who are at greater health risk if they contract the measles virus.
“Kids across New York State who are fighting cancer and other life-threatening diseases are now having to choose between going to school and exposing themselves to vaccine-preventable illnesses that could kill them,” Hoylman said in late May.
“It is absolutely imperative that everyone who is medically able to get vaccinated does so in order to protect those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons,” added Dinowitz.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that there are roughly two to three deaths among every 1,000 measles cases. The United States’ surpassed that total number of cases in early June.