Get Vaccinated or Leave School: 26,000 N.Y. Children Face a Choice

Jacquelynn Vance-Pauls, a real estate lawyer in upstate New York, has scheduled vaccinations for her four children despite her fear of vaccines.CreditCreditDesiree Rios for The New York Times

Jacquelynn Vance-Pauls, a real-estate lawyer in upstate New York, has a 14-year-old son with autism who was recently kicked out of his private special needs school. Her 9-year-old twins and her high-school senior are also on the verge of being expelled from their public schools.

The children did not do anything wrong, nor are they sick. Instead, Ms. Vance-Pauls has resisted complying with a new state law, enacted amid a measles outbreak, that ended religious exemptions to vaccinations for children in all schools and child care centers.

Ms. Vance-Pauls said she believed vaccines contributed to her son’s autism, despite more than a dozen peer-reviewed studiesshowing no such link. The Bible, she said, barred her as a Christian from “desecrating the body,” which is what she says vaccines do.

“If you have a child who you gave peanut butter to and he almost died, why would you give it to your next child?” she said during an interview in August, trying to explain her fears. “How do we turn our backs against what we have believed all these years because we have a gun to our heads?”
With the start of school this week, Ms. Vance-Pauls, along with the parents of about 26,000 other New York children who previously had obtained religious exemptions to vaccinations, are facing a moment of reckoning.

Under the new law, all children must begin getting their vaccines within the first two weeks of classes and complete them by the end of the school year. Otherwise, their parents must home school them or move out of the state.

The measles outbreak that prompted the new law is actually easing. On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared an end to the measles outbreak in New York City, its epicenter. Since the start of the outbreak in October 2018, there have been 654 measles cases in the city and 414 in other parts of the state, where transmission has also slowed.

The large majority of cases have involved unvaccinated children in Hasidic Jewish communities, where immunization rates were sometimes far lower than the state average of 96 percent. Wide-scale vaccination campaigns have helped lift those rates.

But health officials warned on Tuesday that as school begins the highly contagious disease could easily return, particularly if vaccination rates drop again.

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