New York City declares public health emergency amid growing measles outbreak

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio

The city of NY has declared a public health emergency in response to the growing outbreak of measles in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, WLNY-TV reported Tuesday.

"This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately", de Blasio.

She also urged parents to avoid the practice of "measles parties", which she said has contributed to the outbreak.

It is the first time New York City has ordered mandatory vaccinations in recent history, according to health officials.

Ordering people to be vaccinated without their consent is "an extreme measure, which is not provided for in the law and raises civil liberties concerns about forced medical treatment", Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a written statement. The cases led to 21 hospitalizations, including five admissions to intensive care units.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the unusual order amid what he said was a measles crisis in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section, where more than 250 people have gotten measles since September.

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio echoed de Blasio's comments citing the safety and effectiveness of the MMR vaccine. "The faster everyone heeds the order, the faster we can lift it". Refusing to vaccinate could come with a $1,000 fine. "We have to stop it now". Officials there banned children not vaccinated against measles from public spaces last month.

There have been 285 reported cases of measles in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community since October, 246 of which are children, CBS New York reported Monday, citing the health department. One school that violated the mandate has been linked to more than 40 cases, the health department said.

The worst measles outbreak since 1991 has prompted the declaration of a public health emergency in Williamsburg in which unvaccinated students won't be allowed at schools or daycares, de Blasio said.

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Most of the NY cases involved unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals, according to Mr de Blasio's office.

Doctors in affected communities said an anonymously produced anti-vaccine booklet targeting Orthodox Jews that contained false information had appeared in the mail over the last couple years, which had sown doubts and hesitancy among some parents.

Mainstream Jewish teaching does not prohibit vaccination, and most rabbis are encouraging parents to have their children immunized.

The April 9 order states that anyone who "lives, works or resides" within four designated zip codes in Williamsburg "who has not received the MMR vaccine" within 48 hours of the order being issued "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".

The city cannot legally physically force someone to get a vaccination, but officials have said people who ignore the order could be fined $US1,000 ($1,400).

In March. a county in NY state declared a state of emergency following a measles outbreak. A state judge overturned that decision 10 days later.

In Kentucky, a high school student sued state health officials after he was barred from playing basketball because he wasn't vaccinated for chickenpox.

He claimed the vaccine was against his religious beliefs.

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.

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