BUFFALO, NY (AP) – When New York lawmakers abolish religious exemptions for mandatory school vaccinations, the change sends thousands of state parents to get photos of their children – or remove them entirely from the classroom. Legislators removed the exemption in June amid the worst measles outbreak in the country since 1992. More than 26,000 children in public and private schools and day care centers had previously been unvaccinated for religious reasons, according to state health officials.
Now time is running out. Non-vaccinated students have 14 days from the start of school to prove that they have received the first dose of each immunization and must make appointments for the next round within a month. Most schools reopen after Labor Day.
Some parents opposed to vaccinations choose to withdraw their children from school rather than comply.
"Those who decide to vaccinate are not because their beliefs have changed," said Gina Gentry, a mother of a four-year-old bison who will take her children home instead of vaccinating them. She said not everyone has the means or time to do the same.
At the Aurora Waldorf Private School in the suburban buffalo, parents of 21
"Some families told us they planned to go to school, and some said they were moving out of New York," Harp says. "Several families have told us that they intend to return after their children's immunizations are up to date."
New York became the fourth state, along with California, Mississippi, and West Virginia, to remove religious and personal beliefs, exceptions to vaccines, Maine will remove them in 2021. All states allow medical exemptions.
More than 1,200 measles cases in 30 states were confirmed this year, more than three-quarters of them are related to outbreaks in New York and New York,
Many New York cases were among non-vaccinated Orthodox Jewish people community. Resistance to vaccinations remains, despite scientific evidence that they are both safe and effective.
The state health administration will audit schools to ensure compliance with the new law and require non-vaccinated students without a valid medical excuse to leave school, spokeswoman Jill Montag said, Schools are already submitting annual studies on the scope of immunization and are subject to on-site inspections to confirm their answers. Schools that violate the rules could face fines.
"We do not expect compliance issues," Montag says in an email.
Prior to a nationwide change in law, the New York State Department of Health closed 12 schools that could not prove students were vaccinated after an April emergency order.
Like many parents, Gentry's view of vaccines does not come from official religious teachings, but rather from personal beliefs, including that God created people with natural immunity to disease.
Literacy Coach at Buffalo Public Schools, she said her full-time job will now be followed by lessons with her children before and after dinner.
"It's a huge change and definitely life is changing," she said. One of her biggest concerns, according to her, is that her children are already "separated from the people."
Leslie Danessa said his 15-year-old daughter, who captained her school's basketball team and was supposed to be student council president, will be a student this year and miss these opportunities.
"These are big things for a 15-year-old child," says the mother of six, who lives in the city of Greece, near Rochester. She said she views her children as gifts from God and they should not be forced into injections.
The US Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that states have the right to enforce mandatory vaccination laws.
Opponents have filed at least two unsuccessful cases. The hearing for one drew more than 1,000 people to the Albany County Courthouse.