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Morelle backs bills targeting religious exemptions to vaccines

U.S. Congressman Joe Morelle speaks at a news conference announcing his support for two bills that he says would spur increased vaccination rates.
Brett Dahlberg
U.S. Congressman Joe Morelle speaks at a news conference announcing his support for two bills that he says would spur increased vaccination rates.

U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle is sponsoring two bills that he said will increase the number of children who get vaccinated against preventable diseases. 

The Vaccinate All Children Act would block some federal funding for states that allow religious exemptions to vaccines.

The other bill, called the Vaccines Act of 2019, would create a national effort to track vaccination rates. In areas where those rates are low, the bill would fund increased education efforts in an effort to boost them. 

The New York Legislature ended religious exemptions to vaccines earlier this year. Speaking at a news conference at The Strong Museum of Play, Morelle, a Democrat, said the aim of the legislation he’s sponsoring is to extend that ban nationally, even at the expense of religious expression.

“I respect every American’s right to religious freedom. But it cannot come at the cost of the health and safety of our children,” Morelle said.

Measles outbreaks in several states, including New York, have sickened more than 1,000 people this year -- the most since 1992, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The CDC said most of the cases were in people who had not been vaccinated.

Measles is not often fatal in the U.S., but it can cause lifelong health problems. The disease remains a leading cause of childhood blindness in parts of the world where vaccination rates are low.

Concerned about a rise in the rate of religious exemptions both locally (until this year’s legislative action) and across the country, Morelle said the health benefits of vaccinations outweigh the restriction of religious freedom.

“I don’t think on this one it’s a difficult question. I think, frankly, it’s a pretty easy one. You vaccinate, you prevent the spread of deadly diseases to millions and millions of Americans,” Morelle said.

“There are some practices that religions are not allowed to engage in, in America, under our laws.”

Speaking alongside Morelle at the news conference, Elizabeth Murray, a pediatrician at Golisano Children’s Hospital, echoed the congressman’s concerns about decreasing vaccination rates among children.

“I question the quality of information that families are getting,” she said, voicing her support for federal educational efforts.

“Vaccines are the safest way to prevent the spread of diseases,” said Murray. “Vaccines save lives, vaccines save lives, vaccines save lives.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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