New York is set to eliminate a religious exemption to vaccine requirements in the face of its worst measles outbreak in decades.
The Democrat-led Senate and Assembly voted on Thursday to repeal the exemption, which allows parents of children to cite their religious beliefs to opt a child out of the vaccines required for school enrollment.
Gov Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he will sign the measure and could act on the legislation as soon as Thursday night.
Similar exemptions are allowed in 46 states, though politicians in several of them are also considering the elimination of the waiver.
“We are facing an unprecedented public health crisis,” said Sen Brad Hoylman, sponsor of the legislation in the Senate.
“The atrocious peddlers of junk science and fraudulent medicine who we know as anti-vaxxers have spent years sowing unwarranted doubt and fear, but it is time for legislators to confront them head on.”
Hundreds of parents of unvaccinated children gathered at New York’s Capitol before the vote to protest over what several called an assault on religious freedom.
“People came to this country to get away from exactly this kind of stuff,” said Stan Yung, a Long Island lawyer who has three children.
Mr Yung, who is Russian Orthodox, said he has religious views and health concerns that will prevent him from vaccinating his three young children.
His family, he said, may consider leaving the state if the bill is signed into law.
Supporters of the bill say religious beliefs about vaccines should not eclipse scientific evidence that they work, noting the US Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that states have the right to enforce compulsory vaccination laws.
During the Assembly’s floor debate, supporters brought up scourges of the past that were defeated in the US through vaccines.
Supporters also suggest some parents may be claiming the religious exemption for their children even though their opposition is actually based on misguided claims about scientifically discredited dangers of vaccines.
The bill would not change an existing state exemption given to children who cannot have vaccines for medical reasons, such as a weakened immune system.
Once signed, the law will take effect immediately but will give unvaccinated students up to 30 days after they enter a school to show they have had the first dose of each required immunisation.
Federal health officials said last week that this year’s US measles epidemic has surpassed 1,000 illnesses, the highest in 27 years.
The majority of cases are from outbreaks in New York in Orthodox Jewish communities.
The nation last saw this many cases in 1992, when more than 2,200 were reported.