Stringent measures, other vaccine rules for NY schoolchildren upheld

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A camper’s immunization form and physician’s stamp is seen at the Rosmarins Day Camp and Cottages office in Monroe, New York, May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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  • Court finds no ‘fundamental rights’ at issue
  • Parents, titled challenged 2019 rules narrowing vaccine exceptions

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court has upheld stringent vaccination requirements for schoolchildren New York issued in 2019 in the wake of a measles outbreak, rejecting a legal challenge by parents and by Children’s Health Defense, a group that opposes childhood vaccines.

A unanimous panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday found that the rules, which eliminated religious exemptions for the vaccines against childhood illnesses required for school and narrowed medical exemptions, did not violate the plaintiffs’ due process rights under the US Constitution.

Sujata Gibson of Gibson Law Firm, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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The dispute has its roots in a 2019 measles outbreak centered in communities with low rates of vaccination against the once-common childhood disease. In response, New York in June 2019 passed a law strengthening vaccine requirements for schoolchildren, and the state Department of Health issued regulations implementing the law, which took effect that December.

The new rules eliminated non-medical exemptions for vaccine requirements, including religious exemptions, and said that any medical exemption must be supported by a note from a doctor citing a specific condition consistent with recognized, evidence-based standards of care.

Several parents, along with Children’s Health Defense, sued the state in Albany federal court in 2020, claiming that the new rules had resulted in their children wrongly being denied exemptions. Another group of families had unsuccessfully challenged the lack of religious exemption in 2019.

Children’s Health Defense, led by anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr, is known for bringing numerous challenges to vaccine mandates around the country.

The plaintiffs said the new rules violated their “fundamental rights” to life and liberty under the Constitution by allowing the state to deny a vaccine exemption in a case where a licensed physician says that one should be granted.

US District Judge Brenda Sannes dismissed the case, finding the rules infringed no fundamental right, and the 2nd Circuit affirmed.

Circuit Judge Denny Chin wrote Friday that the rules did not infringe any right because they still allowed medical exemptions, as long as they followed “evidence-based national standards.”

Chin, joined by Circuit Judges Pierre Leval and Jose Cabranes, further found that there “clearly is a legitimate objective state” for “protecting communities from serious, vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Vaccine mandates have become hotly debated since early 2021, when many states and employers began imposing them in some situations to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case is Doe et al v. Zucker et al, 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-537.

For plaintiffs: Sujata Gibson of Gibson Law Firm

For the state: Assistant Solicitor General of Counsel Beezly Kiernan

Read more:

US measles outbreak grows with 75 new cases, mostly in New York

US Supreme Court nixes religious challenge to New York vaccine mandate

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Brendan Pierson

Thomson Reuters

Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at [email protected]

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