Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Friday the federal government will continue to defer to individual states on vaccine mandates and exemptions but nevertheless insisted parents should still have their children vaccinated.
During an appearance on "Outnumbered Overtime," he said, "We leave the issue of mandates and exemptions to states to decide. What I can do is make it very clear this is an entirely vaccine-preventable outbreak. And what we're doing is trying to educate communities that vaccines are safe and effective."
Azar's comments come after New York state ended its religious exemption for vaccinations for schoolchildren Thursday after the Democratic-led Senate and Assembly voted to repeal it.
Democratic Gov. Cuomo signed the bill minutes after the measure was passed, giving unvaccinated students one month after they start school to comply with the new law. Before the vote, parents were able to cite their religious beliefs to opt their child out of the required vaccinations. Forty-five states still allow some type of exemption.
Azar reassured the public about the safety of vaccines and urged parents to have their children vaccinated to help prevent a possibly devastating outbreak. He also decried what he called "disinformation campaigns" that rail against government-mandated vaccinations.
"The vaccines could prevent measles, and measles is a very, very serious health condition," he said. "It is not to be trifled with. But unfortunately, various pockets in our country, various communities including a couple in New York, have been the subject of mass disinformation campaigns and have been convinced that they shouldn't vaccinate their children. They need to get their kids vaccinated. Talk to your doctor if you or your kids haven't been vaccinated and follow their recommendations -- please."
Host Harris Faulkner asked if there was a safer alternative to vaccination and Azar said it's still the preferred method for dealing with diseases like measles and declined to offer an opinion on an alternate solution.
"We're working with the local communities. You've got to have trusted sources that will educate them about the need here, that the vaccine's safe and effective," he said.
"Measles is not to be trifled with and you've just got to get vaccinated. And talk to your doctor. It's the best thing we can do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report