About a dozen so-called anti-vaxxers and their children protested outside a public forum held by New York state Senator James Skoufis Tuesday. They were there in opposition to the Democratic senator’s vote in favor of repealing a religious exemption from vaccinations, which became law in June.
“Will it take the return of polio before we start taking this more seriously?” Skoufis asks.
“There is the return of polio. They changed the name of it,” Buglino says. “They changed the name of polio.”
“Vaccines only work when all or most of people are immunized. And so that’s why I do believe we needed to do away with the religious exemption,” Skoufis says, “If there… We still have the medical exemption in New York state, and so…”
“It’s impossible to get,” Buglino says. “It’s impossible to get.”
Kathleen Buglino of Chester has three children and her middle one, a son, has autoimmune issues. Buglino says neither her pediatrician nor specialist will sign a medical exemption, especially after the religious repeal became law in June.
“It was tough enough beforehand,” says Buglino. “It’s even tougher now.”
Buglino and her kids carried posters, including a certificate for her middle son’s attendance record.
“Healthy children, all children have a right to school. They have a right to an education, a public education,” Buglino says. “My children have been healthy. I have a child who got 100 percent attendance this past year, but yet he’s being considered a health risk to the school. How is this possible? Because I won’t vaccinate him?”
Buglino says she helped organize Tuesday’s turnout, in part via the New York Alliance for Vaccine Rights. The protestors stood with signs outside Betty’s Country Kitchen in Washingtonville, Orange County, where the Democrat was holding the first of his “Skoufis on Your Street” forums in his 39th District. First, he stopped on the sidewalk to speak with the protestors, and said they were welcome to attend his forum.
“I’m sorry that there are some individuals and a handful of communities, quite frankly, in New York state that continue to believe this junk science that exists,” Skoufis says. “But society demands that government step in and protect the public’s health, and that’s what we did when we eliminated the religious exemption. This was good public policy. I was proud to support it.”
Buglino responds to Skoufis’ having stopped to speak with her and the other protestors.
“I was surprised that he actually stood here as long as we did. I really did expect him to kind of push through,” says Buglino. “So I was glad that he stood and he listened. I do believe that he has a lot to learn about our side of the issue.”
“What religious beliefs are valid according to the Constitution? Which ones did the Constitution say are valid? Buglino asks.
“Would you like me to speak or do you want to just yell at me the whole time,” Skoufis says.
“I’m not yelling at you,” says Buglino.
“Please do,” says another.
“Ok. So let’s, let me try and address a few of your points here. Number one, when we talk about the Constitution... I’m going to address this right now,” Skoufis says. “California repealed the religious exemption a number of years ago. I don’t get to decide what’s constitutional. You don’t get to decide what’s constitutional. The courts get to decide what’s constitutional.”
And the courts upheld California’s repeal. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the repeal legislation in mid-June, following a measles outbreak in parts of New York City and Rockland County that began in the fall of 2018. Skoufis’ district represents a portion of Rockland and Ulster Counties, and most of Orange County, where there are more than 35 measles cases.
“There’s no religion that takes exception to vaccines. So there, we had this on the books, this religious exemption, for many years, but Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, there is no organized religion that has a problem with vaccines, and so why did we have a religious exemption?” Skoufis says. “The fact is that many, too many people, were hiding behind this religious exemption and using it as cover for their conspiracy theories, that this vaccine somehow causes autism which, all of that has been debunked time after time.”
“I have to home school. I’m a public school teacher,” says Buglino. “I’m going to go to school all day long and teach in Rockland County to come home and home school my children at night and on the weekends.”
Her rising seventh-, sixth- and third-grade children were attending Monroe-Woodbury schools. The mothers asked to meet with Skoufis another time on the issue, and Skoufis said he would. Susan Blakeney agrees with Skoufis’ vote. The Blooming Grove resident, now retired, worked for a pharmaceutical company for 30 years, where her first program was working on the oral polio vaccine.
“Vaccines are known for their herd immunity, and it’s, we need the majority of the population to be protected, and then everybody will be protected because it doesn’t allow the virus to come in and infect people,” Blakeney says. “So, anti-vaccine protestors, they can do what they want, but they shouldn’t be allowed in public, especially in public schools, and public daycare, or anything, anything in public. They should stay to themselves.”
Attorneys Robert F. Kennedy Jr., with Children’s Health Defense, and Goshen, Orange County-based Michael Sussman filed a lawsuit July 10 in New York State Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the repeal of the religious exemption to vaccination, on behalf of 55 families. The mothers who spoke with WAMC say they are not part of that suit, but were asked and intend to file affidavits in support.
The anti-vaxxers say they will organize groups to turn out at all of Skoufis’ public forums and will do the same at events of other area state lawmakers who voted to repeal the religious exemption from vaccines. As of July 17, Rockland had 282 conf