Unvaccinated students worry about school year as NY law ends religious exemptions

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Some parents and students are nervous about the start of the new school year after a new state law was passed ending religious exemptions for vaccines.

The Messina kids from Sayville are very involved in their high school sports programs -- playing varsity football and lacrosse. But there could be some difficult decisions coming up.

The family doesn't believe in vaccinations and had a religious exemption. But the state Legislature repealed that exemption in June after a measles outbreak. Other families sued but lost. That means vaccinations are now required, unless you're medically exempt.

"We have very significant data that shows without vaccinations, many people get sick and die. It's that simple," says Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk health commissioner.

Jordan Messina, 15, says she is worried. She says if she doesn't get vaccinated, she won't be allowed in school, which she says could jeopardize her future.

Other lawsuits are being filed on behalf of families in Nassau, Suffolk and other parts of the state.

According to the attorney filing the suits, they're based on rights granted in the New York Constitution -- the right to free exercise of religion and the right to a free public education.

Rita Palma from the New York chapter of Children's Health Defense says anti-vaccine groups are hoping for an injunction from a judge before school starts.

"If we get the stay granted, the injunction granted, then life goes back to normal until the case runs its course through the courts," says Palma.

If that doesn't happen, families like the Messinas will have to decide -- whether to vaccinate -- or home-school their kids.

"I'm hoping that something comes through. I'm hoping that people come to their senses. I'm hoping people are outraged," says Tracy Messina.

An attorney says there are about 26,000 students who claimed the religious exemption last year. Of those, 3,500 live in Nassau and Suffolk.

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