New York City has declared the measles outbreak affecting the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg to be a public health emergency, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
Unvaccinated people living in select zip codes will be required to receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as MMR, to curtail the outbreak and protect others, he said.
Under the mandatory vaccinations, members of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check the vaccination records of any individual who may have been in contact with infected patients. Those who have not received the MMR vaccine or do not have evidence of immunity may be given a violation and could be fined $1,000.
"Every hour, every day matters here. If people would just go and get vaccinated, there's no cause for a fine," said de Blasio. "It's not our goal to issue violations. We want to simply solve the problem."
The public health emergency comes in response to 285 cases of measles reported in Brooklyn and Queens since the beginning of the outbreak in October. The same outbreak is responsible for 15 cases of measles in Orange County, New York, and 168 cases in Rockland County, New York. The outbreak began when, according to health officials, an unvaccinated child became infected with the illness while visiting Israel.
"Since then, there have been additional people from Brooklyn and Queens who were unvaccinated and acquired measles while in Israel. People who did not travel were also infected in Brooklyn and Rockland County," the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website says.
Of the 285 New York City cases, the range of ages has been 1 month to 66 years of age, with 246 children affected, said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot at the press conference. Five of 21 hospitalized cases have been admitted to the intensive care unit, she added.
Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio warned of "measles parties," where parents bring together unvaccinated children with a sick child to intentionally spread the disease.
"Avoid this practice," said Palacio. Measles parties are "dangerous," since the disease can be fatal. "This vaccine is safe," she added, noting it not only protects your child but it protects other people.
There are hopeful signs, Barbot noted. Since September, 8,000 people have been vaccinated. "You can be infectious four days before you actually develop the rash," said Barbot. Measles is an airborne disease, so a sneeze can spread it and it can last two hours after a person has left the room.
"There's nothing in Talmudic law that prohibits vaccination," said Barbot.
"We saw only two cases in New York City in 2017, so we have a very serious situation on our hands," said de Blasio. "We cannot allow this dangerous disease to make a comeback in this city -- we have to stop it now."