Mail this story to a friend.          
NYSNYS NEWS: In face of inaction on measles crisis, Reid McNally & Savage lobbying firm is handing out surgical masks at the Capitol to lawmakers, staff, visitors.
By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 13, 2019) -- With legislators so far unwilling to allow votes on a bill to tighten vaccination rules in the face of the uncontrolled spread of measles in New York, a lobbying firm has decided to distribute medical masks at the Capitol as a public service.

The masks and informational material about the importance of immunization against highly infectious diseases are being given out by Reid, McNally & Savage, an Albany lobbying firm whose clients include the American Cancer Society, the Academy of Family Physicians and other healthcare organizations.

The masks -- known more commonly as surgical masks -- are being handed out as NYC and NYS health officials reported 740 cases of measles. The illness is highly contagious and can cause serious health issues, including brain infections, pregnancy complications, and pneumonia. Measles can also result in death.

A fact sheet on vaccines Reid McNally is handing out says that "studies have shown that wearing a medical mask decreases a healthy person's risk of getting sick by 60-80 percent. In general, it is safest to keep a distance of at least six feet from those who are ill, remember to practice good hand washing, and be sure you are up to date with all the CDC-recommended vaccines."

The masks are being offered this week as opponents of mandatory vaccination are expected at the Capitol to lobby lawmakers to keep in place a religious exemption for having children vaccinated. New York has the worst outbreak of measles in the U.S., and so far state and local health officials have been unable to contain its spread.

The Senate and Assembly have bottled up bills to tighten vaccination rules, though they would likely pass if permitted to come up for a vote in both houses.

"We are seeing the resurgence of serious and highly contagious diseases which were once eradicated in our country," lobbyist Marcy Savage said in a statement. "Our firm works with a number of public health and medical organizations and believes that awareness and prevention are the best medicine. Further as a parent of young children, I believe we must take all possible steps to prevent the spread of these dangerous diseases which can impact the young and immunocompromised, who may be unable to be vaccinated, the hardest."

"For these reasons, we are providing vaccine information and medical masks, as a public service, to those who work in the Legislature who see thousands of visitors a day this time of the year, to enable them to take the extra precaution to protect themselves and their families," she added.

The Health Department says that under current state law, "every student entering or attending public, private or parochial school in New York State" is required "to be immune to diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, varicella and meningococcal in accordance with Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations. In the 2018-19 school year, meningococcal immunization is required for grades 7, 8, 9 and 12. Every child in day care, Head Start, nursery school or prekindergarten in NYS must be immune to diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, varicella, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and pneumococcal disease."

The only exceptions provided are for those who object on religious grounds, or have a medical condition that conflicts with immunization.

New York is the epicenter of the measles outbreak, the worst in 25 years, with most of the cases affecting people in the Jewish Hasidic community where many have balked at immunization. Others are also opposed, including environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr., Gov. Andrew Cuomo's former brother in law. Two of Kennedy's siblings recently published a New York Times op-ed criticizing him for spreading falsehoods about common vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that from January 1 to May 10, "839 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 23 states. This is an increase of 75 cases from the previous week. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000."

Citing an unnamed source, CNN reported Monday that 66 of the 75 new measles cases were reported in New York State. "Of those, 41 were reported by New York City, and 25 were reported by Rockland County," CNN said. "These areas are home to the Orthodox Jewish communities that have been reporting an increasing number of cases since October."

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported last week that as of May 6 there have been 466 measles cases reported in there. "Most of these cases have involved members of the Orthodox Jewish Community," the agency said. "If you live, work or reside in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), you are now required to get vaccinated for measles unless you are immune or medically exempt."

Monday, the state Health Department reported "as of May 13, 2019, there are 274 confirmed cases of measles in New York State outside of New York City (225 in Rockland County, 28 in Orange County, 17 in Westchester County, 2 in Sullivan County, 1 in Suffolk County and 1 in Greene County.)"

Rockland County has been under a state of emergency since March due to the prevalence of the disease there.