This week saw furious anti-vax parents in New York posting memes and images of sad children and even showed up in person to protest against the governor Andrew Cuomo. All this due to the coming in effect of a new law prohibiting unvaccinated children from attending school.
According an official publication from the New York Department of Health, Office of Children and Family Services, and the State Education Department, the mandate, enacted in June, “prohibits a school from permitting any child to be admitted to such school, or to attend such school, in excess of 14 days without sufficient evidence that the child has received all age-appropriate required vaccinations”.
As the Supreme Court once ruled:
“The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”https://t.co/CeKQpzOjyY
— Senator Brad Hoylman (@bradhoylman) September 21, 2019
As the14-day grace periods started expiring this week, school officials started barring students from classed or removing them from schools to be picked up by their parents. The barred students can return to school after their parents got them vaccinated.
State health officials told BuzzFeed News that during the 2017–18 school year, 26,217 unvaccinated New York children in public schools, private schools, parochial schools, daycare centers, and prekindergarten programs claimed religious exemptions. But following the worst measles outbreak the state had seen in decades, New York ended religious exemptions for vaccines in June.
There is widespread misinformation about vaccines that partially influences anti-vax parents. There is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that confirms that vaccines work and do not cause disorders like autism. Although this obsolete claim has been repeatedly debunked, it persists due to people who spread vaccine misinformation to play on fears and prejudices.
The New York Health Department said in a statement to BuzzFeed News on Friday. “Immunizations give children the best protection from serious childhood diseases and the science is crystal clear that vaccines are safe and effective”.
Last Tuesday, a group of parents protested and live-streamed their demonstration outside Lloyd Harbor Elementary School in Long Island as they waited to receive their children from their 14th and last day of school until they were vaccinated.
Paris Pappas, 43, told Newsday that the ban left local parents in “absolute hell.”
She said, “We’re just watching everybody else’s school life go on, and my life has stopped, basically,” adding that she plans to homeschool her daughters, ages 14, 12, and 6.
Devoid of other options except vaccinating their children, several other anti-vax New Yorkers also posted about beginning to homeschool their children. Till the new law was passed, unvaccinated children could be signed up in school or childcare centers if their parent or guardian had “genuine and sincere religious beliefs” against immunization. Medical exemptions are still permitted, but a physician with a New York license must first certify “that such immunization may be detrimental to a child’s health.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters after signing the bill June 13, “I understand freedom of religion. We all do. We respect it. I’ve heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk”.
On Wednesday last week, around 100 anti-vaxxers protested outside Farmingdale State College in Nassau County as Cuomo delivered a speech. The most-shared pictures among parents are images of the children who can no longer attend schools because of their parents’ choices.
A photo of a sobbing first-grader with a goodbye card signed by his teacher and classmates has gone viral and shared nearly 2,000 times on Facebook as an example of the human cost of the new law.
Rita Palma, founder of the anti-vax group My Kids, My Choice, wrote in the photo’s caption, “This little boy can’t go back to school. Why? Because our state legislature thinks we’re a bunch of ignorant pariahs. So the sensible thing to do is deprive children who want to go to school of an education. Makes perfect sense, right? This is so horribly wrong.”
Palma and other New York anti-vaxxers have gone to the extent of comparing the new law banning religious exemptions to the Jim Crow laws and segregation of white and black people in America.
Like Cuomo, state Sen. Brad Hoylman, the bill’s sponsor, has also been memed on Twitter after the grace period came to an end.
One person even took to equating the new law to Anne Frank , who was killed by Nazis, in a tweet that read, in part, “Anne Frank was denied an education and forced to home-school.”
Your child is not in school because you are choosing not to vaccinate.
Anne Frank was murdered by Nazis.
One of these is not like the other. Shame on you for daring to compare antivaxxing to the Holocaust. https://t.co/ns9yMRASEl
— Senator Brad Hoylman (@bradhoylman) September 18, 2019
That impelled Hoylman to respond, “One of these is not like the other. Shame on you for daring to compare antivaxxing to the Holocaust.”