Number of unvaccinated students with religious exemptions doubles in Monroe County

Number of unvaccinated students with religious exemptions doubles in Monroe County

The number of unvaccinated students with religious exemptions in Monroe County public schools has doubled in the last five years.

It jumped from .39 percent in the 2012-2013 school year to .77 percent in the 2017-2018 school year.

This comes to light as Michael Mendoza, Commissioner of Public Health in Monroe County, expressed his concerns about seven cases of measles in the county since the beginning of 2019. Mendoza called the outbreak isolated, but troubling at a press conference Tuesday.

"I can't explain the surge in unvaccinated children solely on religion alone,” Mendoza said. "Vaccines are among the single-most advances in public health in the 20th Century. Now is not the time to take that for granted."

Several measles cases were found in students from the Spencerport School District. School and health officials will not say why those students were exempt from vaccines.

Medical exemptions are also up; those require a licensed medical professional's approval.

The district sent the following statement following the commissioner’s concerns about exemptions:

New York State sets the regulations around vaccinations, including medical and religious exemptions, that school districts must follow, and Spencerport abides by this process. Any changes to these exemptions must be at that legislative level.
That said, we are grateful as a district to the Monroe County Department of Health for their expertise on the cases of measles here, including their assurances around being vaccinated.

According to state law, a student's guardian must fill out an exemption form, explain why they're requesting the religious exemption, describe the principals that guide the objection, and indicate whether all immunizations are prohibited, or just some.

Several school districts in the county tell 13WHAM they have never denied a religious exemption.

Lawmakers are looking to change that.

Last month, an assemblyman from downstate introduced a bill to repeal "exemption from vaccination due to religious beliefs" from the public health law.

It's currently in the Health Committee.

Overall, most students are vaccinated; 98.5 percent of students in Monroe County public school districts were vaccinated in the 2017-2018 school year.

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