Bellone supports legislation to establish a statewide vaccine awareness campaign

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Bellone supports legislation to establish a statewide vaccine awareness campaign

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
5/2/2019


ALBANY— On Friday, April 26, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone announced his support for legislation that would create a state-backed awareness campaign for vaccines. The announcement came shortly after health officials confirmed a recent case of measles within Suffolk County. 

“Similar to other cases across the nation, Suffolk County has seen firsthand what can occur when someone does not receive a measles vaccination,” Bellone wrote in a statement. “Since this public-health issue cannot be contained by municipal borders, it is critical that New York State make every effort to dispel the notion that vaccines are unsafe.” 

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services was notified last week about a laboratory-confirmed case of measles in an adult who arrived recently from outside the United States. Officials say the case does not appear to be related to any current measles cases in New York State. 

Notifications from the SCDHS say anyone who visited a number of locations throughout the East End of Long Island on Saturday, April 20 might have been exposed to measles. The locations include BNB Bank on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, King Kullen on East Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, and CVS on South Main Street in Southampton. 

It was New York State Sen. David Carlucci who first proposed the bill that Bellone now supports. 

“We have seen the spread not only of measles, but misinformation about vaccines,” said Carlucci reportedly. “The Senate majority is currently doing a social media outreach campaign about vaccine awareness. Now let’s go further and fund a campaign by the state Health Department so we can counter inaccurate information long term, especially in communities that are often closed off to outsiders.” 

Carlucci is a Democrat who represents New York’s 38th Senate District, which includes all of Rockland County and parts of Westchester County. 

“I support Sen. Carlucci’s legislation so that more New Yorkers learn the facts and get protected from illness,” Bellone said. 

Carlucci’s bill, according to reports, would be funded through a check-off box on the state’s personal income tax form. 

Earlier this month, Carlucci voiced his support for legislation that would end non-medical exemptions to vaccines for school-aged children. If the legislation, which is currently going through both the state Senate and Assembly, were to be put into law, New York would become the fourth state to allow only medical exemptions for vaccines. Other states include California, Mississippi and West Virginia. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has reportedly stated that eliminating certain exemptions could be questionable, constitutionally. 

In a radio interview with WAMC’s Roundtable on April 9, Cuomo said that the recent measles outbreak is a “serious public-health concern, but it’s also a serious First Amendment issue and it is going to be a constitutional, legal question.” 

Rita Palma, a Bayport resident and founder of My Kids, My Choice, believes that families should decide for their children whether they get vaccinated. Palma said she originally opposed vaccines on religious grounds, but has now come to oppose them for medical reasons as well, believing they cause a wide range of illnesses. 

“If you’re not looking into the effects [of vaccines], shame on you,” Palma said, regarding parents who don’t look into the ingredients that vaccines contain. 

Federal health officials reported earlier this week that the measles outbreak in the U.S. has surpassed 700 cases this year. The virus has been found in 22 states. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 500 of the 704 confirmed cases as of last week were among unvaccinated people. Sixty-six people throughout the country, according to reports, have been hospitalized.

About 400 cases have been in New York City and nearby Rockland County, mostly in Orthodox Jewish communities. 

These numbers already surpass the previous high of 667 cases, which occurred in 2014. The nation’s highest number of cases prior was 963 in 1994, six years before measles was eliminated in the U.S. 

On March 26, Palma wrote on Twitter: “According to Kevin Mackay from the Rockland County health department, there are only four active cases of measles in Rockland County as we speak.” The post was also tagged with the word “Overreaction” and  the German term for anti-Semitism, indicating that the public-health efforts in the affected communities have an anti-Jewish bias. 

The four active cases Palma mentioned in her post were also reported by an online publication called “Age of Autism,” one of the many anti-vaccination websites that Carlucci’s bill hopes to combat. One recent post, dated April 27, takes issue with a recent televised comment where President Donald Trump said that people “have to get their shots” and called vaccinations “important.” 

“Will the First Lady share her children’s vaccination status, please? We would have liked to have seen the Obama girls’ records too,” the post reads. “No partisanship here at [Age of Autism]. Both sides of a rotten apple with a pharma profit core.” 

Melody Anne Butler, a registered nurse and infection preventionist at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, told us last week that the recent measles outbreak is a result of the public “letting its guard down” when it came to vaccines.

Butler is also the founding executive director of Nurses Who Vaccinate, an online portal that provides medically sound information on vaccines. Butler said the organization supports legislation to end non-medical exemptions. “States that have implemented similar legislation have seen their rates of immunization increase, thus increasing protection,” she noted. 

This publication reached out to both Bellone and New York State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and asked about their stance on eliminating non-medical exemptions for vaccines. Neither office responded by press time.