Outraged parents protest new law banning unvaccinated children from attending NY schools

Long Island Baptist Academy located in Holtsville, NY.

By Jedine Daley

More than 20 parents of unvaccinated children on Long Island staged a protest yesterday, following the new vaccination law which will keep their children out of the New York school system.

Parents rallied outside a news conference meeting at the Nassau University Medical Center around midday yesterday, to speak against the new vaccination laws. The conference consisted of doctors and elected officials encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated. The parents were not allowed inside the meeting, but expressed their opposition of the law from the outside. Long Island was one among at least two other New York state areas where anti-vaccination parents staged protests. In Albany, parents and supporters from different parts of the state gathered outside the New York State Education building on Monday, Sept.9. The protestors pleaded to state officials to allow their unvaccinated kids to attend school.

“I know a few people who I work with who get religious exemptions for their children, because it is simply just not of their religion to receive certain shots,” Tresha Johnson, who attended the protest in Albany, said. “Many of them are now looking into homeschooling their kids.”

There were 2,778 religious exemptions in Suffolk County, and 1,604 in Nassau County last year, according to information from a 2017-2018 New York State Health Foundation study. Following the new law, all students attending public, private, parochial and daycare schools must be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, varicella and meningococcal.

Students who previously claimed religious exemptions are now prohibited from doing so under this law. New York State has joined Mississippi, West Virginia, California and Maine, all states that have eliminated the religious exemption. A child can now only be exempted for medical reasons confirmed by a license New York State physician. Family physician, Dr. OlunfunmilayoAdeyanju, MD said that more parents are now taking children in to get vaccinated since the beginning of the school year.

Parents of unvaccinated children who previously seek religious exemptions are left to decide on either getting their kids vaccinated, homeschooling them, or moving out of state. Schools are enforcing the law by ensuring that all students enrolled at their institution are immunized within the first week of school.

“Even before the law was passed, it was a requirement for all students here to be vaccinated,” Rabbi Mendy Goldberg from Lubavitch of the East End Maimonides Jewish Day School in Coram said. “All the students here are vaccinated.”  It is a policy that is very well enforced in many Jewish Communities. Goldberg said that the Torah encourages them to take the best care of their bodies.

With 126 school districts in Long Island, more than 70 schools in Nassau and Suffolk county have vaccination rates under the 96 percent goal set by the state’s Health Department. The county consists of a total of 656 public schools. Majority of the schools with rates under the 96 percent mark are private schools.

Private schools within the state have higher religious exemption rates than public schools. The private schools with a 100 percent religious exemption rates were forced to close down if the students enrolled were not vaccinated before the State’s deadline.

Long Island Baptist Academy had a 99.99 percent religious exemption rate. The school was shutdown in the summer following the passing of the new vaccination law, but Pastor John Graf, in charge of the administration said it is possible for them to reopen if they have enough students to be enrolled.

“We only had a handful of students enrolled here, however they were not vaccinated,” Graf said. “Parents do what they want with their kids and they just didn’t wish to get them vaccinated.”  Graf said that he is aware that if they do reopen the institution, it would be required for all students to be vaccinated under the law.

The Department of Health and Office of Children and Family Services are still advising parents of all unimmunized students to get the students their first dose in each immunization series by the 20thof September. Students have 14 days after their first day of school to receive the first dose of vaccinations, and 30 days to show scheduled appointments for the required follow-up doses.