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Franklin Square, Elmont school districts prepare for new vaccine requirement

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Doctors and administrators throughout Franklin Square and Elmont have been busily preparing for the 2019-20 school year, when a new state law overturning religious exemptions for vaccinations takes effect.

The law, which was sponsored by State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat from the Bronx, was signed into law in June. It eliminated a loophole allowing children to attend public and private schools as well as day care without receiving the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine if their parents claimed it violated their religious beliefs.

In Franklin Square, 29 students went to public school without being vaccinated for religious reasons in 2018-19, according to Superintendent Jared Bloom. He said that throughout the summer, he has been in contact with those families to remind them that they have 14 days from the start of the school year to get the necessary vaccinations under the law. “We are working with all of our families to get them the information we have,” Bloom said.

Sewanhaka Superintendent James Grossane also said that the district will “follow all New York regulations with regard to the new immunization laws for all our students,” adding that every family has been notified about the changes to the law.

Elmont Superintendent Al Harper could not be reached for comment at press time, but state data shows that only one student at the Covert Avenue School was unvaccinated for religious reasons in the 2017-18 school year, the most recent year for which state data is available.

Earlier this year, the U.S. was experiencing the worst measles outbreak in a quarter century, with more than 600 cases reported in New York City before Aug. 26, according to the city’s Department of Health. Many of those who were unvaccinated were in the Orthodox Jewish community and were 4 or younger, the data shows.

“This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said when he signed the bill into law. “While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health, and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks.”

Dr. Shanmukha Priya, a pediatrician at Precious Smiles in Elmont, said she has seen an uptick in parents at her office asking for vaccines before the school year begins, especially pre-school parents. Many of them, she said, have questions about the safety of the vaccines because they have seen inaccurate information online.

Sometimes, Priya said, parents question the effectiveness of the vaccines. But according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles, and one dose is about 93 percent effective.

Other parents, she said, are concerned about the “heavy metals” in vaccines that they fear could cause autism. The CDC rebuts those concerns, however, saying on its website that “today’s vaccines use only the ingredients they need to be as safe and effective as possible,” including aluminum salts to help boost the body’s response to the vaccine and preservatives to prevent contamination. Those ingredients, the CDC notes, are also found in food. There is no known link between vaccines and autism.

“There’s a lot of issues that come up with regards to vaccines,” Priya said, “and we try our best to address those concerns.”

She also said that people with questions about vaccines should speak with their doctors for more accurate information. “We’re not here to harm your kids,” she said. “We’re here to protect them. That’s the point of vaccines.”