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New York City on Tuesday declared a public health emergency following a measles outbreak in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would require unvaccinated individuals living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to receive the measles vaccine as the city escalated its efforts to stem one of the largest measles outbreaks in decades.
The mayor said the city would issue violations and possibly fines of $1,000 for those who did not comply.
“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference in Williamsburg, adding: “The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested.”
[In April, Measles spread to four more states as the outbreak grew.]
The measure follows a spike in measles infections in New York City, where there have been 285 confirmed cases since the outbreak began in the fall; 21 of those cases led to hospitalizations, including five admissions to the intensive care unit.
The majority of the cases have been concentrated in Hasidic communities in Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn.
Across the country, there have been 465 measles cases since the start of 2019, with 78 new cases in the last week alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday.
In 2018, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than half of the measles cases in the country, and the continuing outbreak has led to unusual measures.
In Rockland County, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City, county health officials last month barred unvaccinated children from public places for 30 days. However, last week a judge ruled against the order, temporarily halting it.
And in New York City, an emergency health order issued in December called on students who were not vaccinated against measles to be prohibited from attending classes in ultra-Orthodox schools in selected ZIP codes.
City officials conceded that the earlier order was not effective; Mr. de Blasio said on Tuesday that the city would fine or even temporarily shut down yeshivas that did not abide by the measure.
To enforce the order, health officials said they would check the vaccination records of any individuals who were in contact with people infected with measles.
“The point here is not to fine people but to make it easier for them to get vaccinated,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said at the news conference.
Despite the legal challenge to Rockland County’s efforts, Mr. de Blasio said the city had consulted its lawyers and felt confident it was within their power to mandate vaccinations.
“We are absolutely certain we have the power to do this,” Mr. de Blasio said. “This is a public health emergency.”
[In Rockland County, an outbreak spread fear in an Ultra-Orthodox community.]
Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said there was precedent for Mr. de Blasio’s actions, pointing to a massive measles outbreak in Philadelphia in 1991. During that outbreak, officials in that city went even further, getting a court order to force parents to vaccinate their children.
“I think he’s doing the right thing,” Dr. Offit said about Mr. de Blasio. “He’s trying to protect the children and the people of the city.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s your unalienable right as a United States citizen to allow your child to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection.”
Health officials, noting that Passover will begin next week, were concerned that measles could spread at family gatherings here or abroad.
“The outbreak could in fact especially spread because soon it will be Pesach,” the mayor said. “There will be school vacation. There will be more and more families together The last thing we want to see is more family members afflicted by this disease.”