New York City declares public health emergency, orders mandatory measles vaccinations

New York City declared a public health emergency Tuesday in response to a measles outbreak in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and ordered mandatory vaccinations for residents in four zip codes.

“It is hereby ordered that any person who lives, works or resides within the 11205, 11206, 11221 and/or 11249 zip codes and who has not received the MMR vaccine with in forty eight (48) hours of this Order being signed by me shall be vaccinated against measles unless such person can demonstrate immunity to the disease or document to the satisfaction of the Department that he or she should be medically exempt from this requirement,” Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health, said in an order released Tuesday.

Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP)

The measles outbreak has sickened 285 people in the city since October, and the rate of infection has increased over the last two months, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Tuesday news conference. Those who refuse to get the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine face a $1,000 fine, de Blasio said.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” de Blasio said, who also assured the public that the vaccine “is safe.”

Barbot made clear that the goal of the emergency declaration was public safety.

“The point here is not to fine people but to make it easier for them to get vaccinated,” Barbot said at Tuesday’s news conference.

The Health Department order also mandates that parents vaccinate children who are six months of age or older unless the parent or guardian can prove the child is immune to the disease or should be “medically exempt from this requirement.”

There are no exemptions for religious practice or personal belief.

“We are absolutely certain we have the power to do this,” de Blasio said, regarding the city’s legal authority to carry out its order to vaccinate residents. “This is a public health emergency.”

The city threatened to close Orthodox Jewish schools in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park, where many parents have refused or neglected to vaccinate their children.

Mainstream Jewish teaching does not prohibit vaccination, and most rabbis are encouraging parents to have their children immunized. A small anti-vaccine movement has been spreading misinformation in the religious community about the issue.

As skepticism over vaccines has increased in recent years, the number of cases of preventable diseases has spiked accordingly. Since Jan. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported 387 cases of measles, more than all reported cases in the U.S. in 2018.

Officials in Rockland County, a New York City exurb where many ultra-Orthodox Jews reside, have also declared a state of emergency, and have barred unvaccinated minors from public places. Bringing an unvaccinated child into a public place is now a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.


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