Assemblyman Burke co-sponsors legislation to remove vaccine exemption

Feb 20, 2019

A freshman state lawmaker from Western New York is co-sponsoring legislation to remove a vaccine exemption. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley talked Assemblyman Pat Burke about why he’s supporting the bill that calls for a change in the law.  

“And essentially it would take away non-medical exemptions for vaccines,” Burke said.

Vaccinations.
Credit Photo from the Center for Disease Control website.

That non-medical exemption clause is in the state's public health code. It’s for families whose religious beliefs prevent them from getting children vaccinated.

But Burke tells WBFO News that exemption clause should be removed because those without vaccines are putting others at risk.

“How does that work when it comes to the constitution and religious freedom?” Buckley asked. “That is a difficult question. I think that’s why the clauses were in there in the first place, but for me, and I think for most Americans, I think there’s a social contract we all live by – that you have freedom of religion to practice your faith, but you don’t have freedom to impose your faith on other people,” Burke responded.

Last Friday a State Supreme Court judge in Buffalo ruled in favor of the Orchard Park School District for removing two teenagers for failure to have their vaccines updated because of religious beliefs. The teen siblings were kicked out last November. The family had moved into the Orchard Park District and previously attended West Seneca schools, where they were given a religious exemption.  

“I understand the delicate nature of the issue and even the court case – I don’t know the specifics of that – this wasn’t propagated as a response to that case – this was already in the works – but – as the letter to the law stands now, I presumed that person was going to win that case. She didn’t win the case. I don’t know the circumstances of it. If they didn’t think her religious exemption was valid – but in the end, I agree with the general ruling that you cannot use a religious exemption to harm others,” Burke reacted. “I think this day and age it’s just not appropriate. We are seeing out breaks of measles. We should not be allowing our populations of people to suffer from preventable diseases."

There are more than 110 cases of measles in 10 states, including outbreaks in New York and seven confirmed cases in Rochester.