A measles outbreak among Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jews spurred health officials to declare a public health emergency Tuesday. Mandatory measles vaccines have been ordered and this is the largest-scale vaccination order in the U.S. in nearly 30 years, The Washington Post reports.
The order is the latest attempt in a nationwide scramble to stop the second-largest outbreak of the disease since 2000. The flareup has been touched off by travel to places like Israel, which is also experiencing outbreaks. And that, coupled with widespread misinformation about vaccines has scared parents who haven’t witnessed the effects of a deadly and highly contagious disease that killed 110,000 people worldwide in 2017.
And with Passover, often resulting in travel and family gatherings, health officials are racing against time to undermine the spread of the city’s largest measles outbreak since 1991.
The mandate stretches across four zip codes, and orders all unvaccinated people, including infants as young as six months, to be vaccinated. Anyone resisting this faces a misdemeanor charge and a $1,000 fine. With the disease’s tally now up to 465 cases in 19 states, this is the strictest action state and local officials have taken to date, according to The Post.
Officials in NYC and across the country have tried to ban unvaccinated kids from schools and other public places, but their efforts haven’t been completely successful.
“We cannot allow this dangerous disease to make a comeback here in New York,” said Mayor Bill De Blasio (D), at a news conference Tuesday. “We have to stop it now.”
About 285 people have contracted the disease since September, with most being reported in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, officials said Tuesday, noting that children made up 246 cases. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported so far, but 21 kids have been hospitalized, with five being reported in the intensive care unit.
“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” de Blasio said. “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.”
To make sure people heed the order, city officials plan to enforce it by tracing the contacts of everyone diagnosed. The health department will investigate where people have gone while contagious. All of the people they have interacted with will also be investigated. Should investigators find an unvaccinated child who may have been exposed to the disease, that child’s parents face a violation and potential fines.
New York officials say the outbreak began among members of the ultra-orthodox community when they visited the United Kingdome, the Ukraine, and Israel. Both Ukraine and Israel are dealing with sizeable measles outbreaks.
Some within the community are distrustful.
“The doctors are trying to screw us, I’m sure of it,” said Yeshiva student Bery Schmeltz, 28. He refused to say if he was vaccinated but added: “The city is just trying to make money off us.”
Some people are also foolishly holding “measles parties” and that’s also complicating matters, The Hill reports.
New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot warned Tuesday that some parents are holding these parties so that their kids will be infected as a way to immunize them naturally in lieu of vaccines.
“We are concerned about families having measles parties,” she said at the news conference.
She added that she doesn’t want to see more people exposed to measles thanks to this practice.
“There are many more individuals who are living with chronic diseases, who are surviving cancer, and so we don’t want children or adults to be unnecessarily exposed to measles,” she said.
In a statement earlier this week, Barbot singled out anti-vaxxers.
“They have been spreading dangerous information based on fake science,” she noted.
And while it hasn’t happened yet during this outbreak, that dangerous information could turn out to be fatal.
Featured image courtesy of the video above