New York’s vaccination bill is a step in the right direction for public health

Noah Loewy, Opinions Editor

After Governor Cuomo signed the S2994A bill on June 13, 2019, New York became one of five states to outlaw all non-medical exemptions for vaccinations, forcing hundreds of parents to choose between homeschooling their children, vaccinating them, and moving out of state. The bill, which went into effect last September, was passed amid a measles outbreak that put nearly a thousand in hospitals.

Despite the wide consensus among health professionals that vaccines pose no threat to humans, upwards of 26,000 students remained unvaccinated during the 2017-2018 school-year. When 90 to 95 percent of a population is vaccinated for a given disease, the population is generally considered to be safe from a potential pandemic.

This phenomenon, known as herd immunity, relies on the fact that when the vast majority of a population is vaccinated, fewer germs are spread from person to person, protecting the small portion of people who are unvaccinated and have relatively weak immune systems. However, when a community fails to reach this 90 percent threshold, it becomes extremely susceptible to an outbreak, which is exactly what happened in Rockland County last June.

The war between religion and science has existed forever, from the Scopes trial of 1925 to present day. If it is the duty of the government to uphold our right to life, and preventing a widespread pandemic certainly falls into that category. However, many “anti-vaxxers” assert that mandatory vaccinations would violate their first amendment right to freedom of religion. This put New York’s government in an unprecedented predicament, and the most plausible solution was to weigh the magnitude of each outcome and try to protect both the right to life and religion.

“Personally, I believe that the vaccine debate is a struggle between public health and private choice. However, in the end, making sure that all students are able to go to school and learn in a safe and healthy environment is most important,” said junior Ryan Kessler.

Unsurprisingly, a 2019 study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that there is a significant correlation between vaccination rates and reported measles cases in the United States. Furthermore, the concept of herd immunity does not only apply to measles.

In 1974, Japan’s vaccination rate for whooping cough was upwards of 80%, and there were only 400 cases nationwide. However, when the percentage dropped to 10% five years later, the number of reported cases skyrocketed to nearly 14,000. “Vaccines should be mandatory because people must know that vaccines are necessary to prevent many diseases and do not have many of the unintended consequences that are thrown around today,” said junior Daniel Ruskin.

Governor Cuomo had to choose between the public health of many and the personal objections of few. Ultimately, his decision supported the notion that “without health, we have nothing.”

After all, public schools serve as breeding grounds for germs, as a team of Yale researchers found that germs thrive on school desks, which are only cleaned once a semester in most places. This notion was further supported by a SafeSpace study which concluded that the average student interacts with 152,300 germs on a daily basis. Many skeptics have mentioned that there is a link between vaccines and autism.

However, Autism Speaks supports vaccines, as their website asserts “the results of this research are clear: vaccines do not cause autism.” There is no bold assertion being made by government officials here, nor is there a money-making scheme in the works among doctors and insurance providers. It is simply an empirical fact that when more members of a population are vaccinated for a given illness, the likelihood of said illness spreading decreases significantly.

Overall, the number one job of our state government is to ensure the safety of New Yorkers, and the passage of S2994A was a step in the right direction.