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Local News

June 25, 2014

Area officials react to judge's vaccine ruling

Area officials generally supported a New York City judge’s ruling upholding the city’s policy of dealing with students that are exempt from vaccinations generally required from others.

A federal judge recently upheld the regulation that allows public schools to bar unvaccinated students when another student has a vaccine-preventable disease.

The goal of a school immunization program should be to have all students adequately immunized unless they have been exempted for medical or religious reasons, according to state education department guidelines.

Judge William Kuntz II ruled against three families who claimed their right to religious freedom was violated when their children were kept from school due to the city’s immunization policies.

In his ruling, the judge citing a 109-year-old Supreme Court decision that gives states broad power in public health matters.

“Religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations,” he said. The plaintiff’s lawyer reportedly planned to appeal.

Otsego County Public Health Immunization Coordinator Peggy Benjamin said she agrees with the decision. If there is an outbreak, those without vaccinations would help spread it.

“We do from time to time see such preventable diseases” including pertussis, she said. She is not aware of any measles outbreaks in the area, but there have been pockets in the state. Health officials are struggling to get the word out that vaccines are safe, she said.

“Part of the problem has been that vaccinations have been so successful over the years,” Benjamin said. “Today’s parents largely grew up without seeing such diseases.”

But unvaccinated children are at risk for diseases that could be spread in many ways, she said. Reactions to the vaccines are rare, and are mild when they occur, she said, while the diseases can be very dangerous, even deadly.

At Jefferson Central School, Superintendent Carl Mummenthey said “the judges ruling appears to make public health a higher priority than other issues.”

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