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New York Tightens Access to Medical Vaccine Exemptions

Obtaining medical vaccine exemptions for children attending school or child care in New York just got more difficult after the state Department of Health issued emergency restrictions.

Parents seeking medical exclusions for their children must now have their physician fill out a state form explaining specifically why the exemption is warranted. The effort is an attempt to cut down on medical vaccination exemptions for non-medical reasons amid the United States’ worst measles outbreaks in nearly 2 decades, according to The Associated Press.

Between January 1, 2019, to August 15, 2019, more than 1200 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 30 states—the most since the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. New York is currently battling 3 separate measles outbreaks—in Rockland County, New York City, and Wyoming County. More than 75% of all cases in the United States this year are tied to the New York outbreaks, with a majority of cases linked to travelers who brought the disease back from other countries.

In June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure eliminating religious and other non-medical exemptions for schoolchildren entirely as state officials debated ways to quell the exploding case counts.

Public health officials in New York also employ school exclusions to drive vaccination rates.

"School and daycare exclusions have been very effective at motivating parents to agree to get their children vaccinated with MMR [Measles, Mumps, Rubella]," Jill Montag, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, told Contagion® earlier this year. "Since the outbreak began, approximately 6000 unvaccinated students in more than 60 schools or daycares have been excluded. However, many of them have subsequently been able to return to school due to having been vaccinated."

Parents’ hesitation to vaccinate is often attributed to perceived adverse effects, a myth that health care practitioners should be prepared to dispel. Knowledge gaps also contribute, Christina Tan, MD, MPH, a state epidemiologist and an assistant commissioner with the New Jersey Department of Health, said in a recent Contagion® Insights panel on measles and vaccination.

“It seems that there are a variety of reasons why parents may choose not to vaccinate their child, depending on what kind of information parents might have related to concerns about safety of the vaccine—including not even having enough knowledge about the vaccines themselves,” Tan said. “So as far as understanding vaccines, that really is at the crux of trying to help parents understand the importance of vaccinating and to dispel any sort of myths related to vaccine-safety concerns.”

For the most recent case counts in the measles outbreaks in the United States, check out the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.
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