New York State Repeals Religious Exemption from School Vaccination Requirements

The United States is currently suffering from its worst measles outbreak in over 25 years. New York State has been at the forefront of this outbreak with over 1,000 reported cases since September of 2018. On June 13, 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation repealing a Public Health Law provision which allowed exemptions from school vaccination requirements based upon a parent’s or guardian’s religious beliefs (NYS Public Health Law §2164).

Effective immediately, section 2164 of the New York Public Health Law requires that every child shall be immunized against various communicable diseases in order to attend any public, private or parochial school or day care setting. Prior to its repeal, a subdivision of this law provided an exception for children whose parent or guardian held “genuine and sincere religious beliefs” which were contrary to statutory immunization requirements. The statute still provides a medical exception to the requirements where a licensed physician certifies that such immunization “may be detrimental to a child’s health.” Notably, the statute also does not change vaccination requirements for college attendance where students can still receive a religious exemption.

Immediately following its passage, the New York State Department of Health issued a statement regarding deadlines for compliance with the new legislation. Children who already had a religious exemption to required immunizations must receive their first age appropriate dosage by June 28, 2019. In addition, by July 14, 2019, parents and/or guardians must show that they have made appointments for their children to receive all required follow-up doses. Parents and guardians whose children are not currently attending school are encouraged to have their children receive a first dose in each immunization series as soon as possible. The deadline for obtaining first dose vaccinations is 14 days from the first day of school. Within 30 days of the first day of school, parents or guardians of such children must show that they have made appointments for all required follow-up doses.

Unchanged is the statute’s certification requirement which states that any health practitioner who administers immunization to a child for poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), rubella, varicella, pertussis, tetanus, pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease and hepatitis B, shall provide the parent or guardian with a certificate of such immunization. A parent or guardian must then provide a certificate of immunization to a school or day care facility before a child can attend. The school or day care facility must annually provide the Department of Health with a summary regarding compliance with the provision. Any parent or guardian who cannot pay or is unable to pay a private health practitioner for such immunization services can alternatively present with their child to a county health officer who will administer the immunizations without charge.