New York City declares measles public health emergency, blames ‘fake science’

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency Tuesday for parts of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section following a measles outbreak affecting the Orthodox Jewish community fueled by a growing movement against vaccinations.

Unvaccinated people living in designated ZIP codes who may have been exposed to measles will be required to receive the vaccine to protect others from the outbreak, the mayor said.

Measles are highly contagious, but the vaccination is considered 97% effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s no question that vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving,” de Blasio said. “The bottom line is to recognize that this is something that has become even more urgent.”

The outbreak began in October, but many of these new cases were confirmed in the last two months. The vast majority of cases are children under 18 – and most of these measles cases were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated people, health officials said.

Steve Sierzega receives a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, New York, on March 27, 2019. (Photo: Seth Wenig, AP)

Members of the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check the vaccination records of people who may have been in contact with infected patients. Those who have not received the vaccine or do not have evidence of immunity may be given a violation and could be fined $1,000, the mayor said.

Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said the outbreak was being “driven by a small group of anti-vaxxers” in the targeted neighborhoods.

“They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science,” he said. “We stand with the majority of people in this community who have worked hard to protect their children and those at risk.”

In February, the department expanded vaccination recommendations for providers serving the Orthodox Jewish community to include an early, extra dose of the vaccine for children ages 6 months to 11 months who live in Williamsburg and Borough Park.

Outbreaks across the U.S. have forced officials to declare emergencies. Why are we starting to see the rise of these outbreaks? It dates back to the anti-vax movement.
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“It does interconnect with the anti-vaxx movement that is not just in the community, its national and its causing lots of problems,” de Blasio said Tuesday.

On Monday, the city Health Department has issued formal orders to all yeshivas – jewish schools – in Williamsburg to comply with the mandatory exclusion of unvaccinated children or face fines and possibly be shut down.

The emergency was declared one day after federal health officials reported that the number of measles cases recorded across the USA rose by almost 100 last week.

The CDC said Monday that 465 cases have been confirmed in 19 states in 2019, the second-highest total since measles was declared eliminated in the USA almost two decades ago.

The surge has been fueled in part by the anti-vaccination movement – most people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said. If one person has the disease, up to 90% of the people close to that person will become infected if they are not immune, the CDC warned.

The World Health Organization described the disease as a prominent cause of death among young children, despite the availability of an effective vaccine. More than 110,000 people, mostly children, died of measles worldwide in 2017. 

The last U.S. measles death on record was in 2015.

In New York, Barbot is concerned about measles outbreaks spreading as people travel for Passover, which begins in less than two weeks.

“We’ve seen a large increase in the number of people vaccinated in these neighborhoods, but as Passover approaches, we need to do all we can to ensure more people get the vaccine,” Barbot said.


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