New York City on Tuesday declared a public health emergency and ordered mandatory measles vaccinations amid an outbreak in Brooklyn, becoming the latest national flash point over refusals to inoculate against dangerous diseases.
Outbreaks nationwide have forced state and city health officials to pursue tougher stances, such as mandatory vaccines or banning unvaccinated children from public places, prompting legal challenges and judicial intervention.
New York’s mandate comes as health officials have scrambled to blunt the spread of measles. At least 285 people have contracted the disease in the city since September, mostly in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.
“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said Tuesday. “The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested … The faster everyone heeds the order, the faster we can lift it.”
The mandate orders all unvaccinated people in four Zip codes, including a concentration of Orthodox Jews, to receive inoculations, including for children as young as 6 months old. Anyone who resists could be fined up to $1,000.
“We cannot allow this dangerous disease to make a comeback here in New York City,” de Blasio added. “We have to stop it now.”
Some Orthodox Jews have resisted vaccines. City health officials said Monday that yeshivas in Williamsburg that do not comply will face fines and possible closure.
As The Washington Post’s Frances Stead Sellers reported, government pushes for inoculations and public space bans of unvaccinated children have prompted a backlash among anti-vaccination activists, whose misinformation campaigns have led to declines for vaccinations against one of the world’s most contagious diseases.
In New York City late last year, the health department ordered yeshivas and child-care centers in the Orthodox Jewish community to keep out unvaccinated students. One school that violated the mandate has been linked to more than 40 cases, the health department said.
“We’re making clear that unvaccinated students will not be allowed in schools or day cares,” de Blasio said.
Insured adults and children will be covered. Those who are uninsured will pay what they can afford, de Blasio said, and those who cannot afford the vaccination will receive it free.
The vast majority of American Jews are vaccinated, but small groups of Jews with stricter beliefs have chosen to put confidence in their faith rather than health officials. Others mistrust the government.
“Most rabbis encourage vaccination based on the Torah commandment to protect one’s life,” Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, founder and head of the ethics department of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel, told The Post on April 3.
“In Judaism, the majority has the right to dictate what takes place in the public space to ward off danger.”
Still, he said, “there is no pope in Judaism, and no one can force you to vaccinate.”
The outbreak in the area has been tied to a child who had not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and contracted the disease during a trip to Israel.
“Since then, there have been additional people from Brooklyn and Queens who were unvaccinated and acquired measles while in Israel,” according to the city’s health department.
New York has contended with measles outbreaks and the legal challenges that have arisen in efforts to contain them.
In Kentucky, a high school student sued state health officials after he was barred from playing basketball because he wasn’t vaccinated for chickenpox. In early April, a judge ruled against his request to rejoin activities at his school.
Michele Chabin contributed to this report.