About a dozen residents protesting a ban on religious exemptions to vaccine requirements shouted at State Sen. Jim Gaughran and disrupted his town hall meeting at the Commack Public Library Wednesday night.
Instead of the planned discussion about taxes and economic development on Long Island, the meeting turned into an hour-long debate about vaccines and religious exemption.
The protest came after the New York Legislature voted June 13 to end religious exemptions for immunizations, overcoming opposition by vaccine skeptics and others who said the measure infringed on religious and constitutional rights.
Gaughran was one of the senators who voted for the bill, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo immediately signed, making New York one of the few states to ban the exemption.
Gaughran told the protesters, some with tear-filled eyes, that approving the bill was necessary.
“There is a measles outbreak. There is a health crisis. There is a health emergency in this state, so the decision was made by a majority of senators,” said Gaughran. “It wasn’t a difficult vote to no longer have the religious exemption.”
Sitting in the front row of the hall, Barbara Jazetco, a local resident who brought her three children into the meeting, said Gaughran is to blame for her children being unable to attend school because they are unvaccinated.
“He was going to kindergarten in September,” she said. “You took that away from him.”
Another mother, Anita Beall, told Gaughran some people are opposed to vaccinations on religious grounds.
“You voted for a women’s rights to her own body, yet you took our right away to practice our sincere religious beliefs for our children by attempting to force each one of our children to be vaccinated,” said Beall.
Beall went on to say some children are allergic to vaccinations.
“If your child was allergic to peanuts, would you continue to let them eat peanuts?,” she asked.
Others claimed that part of the law excludes those citing a medical issue from receiving a medical exemption, which affects their disabled children.
Gerard Beach, a local resident, says shortly after a doctor prohibited his son from getting vaccinated, his child was taken out of school.
Gaughran later returned to talking about the Long Island Power Authority and its lawsuit to chop its taxes on the Northport power plant, and the NY Health Act.