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New York City declares public health emergency over measles outbreak

NYC health emergency issued over measles

New York — New York City declared a public health emergency Tuesday over a measles outbreak and ordered mandatory vaccinations in one neighborhood for people who may have been exposed to the virus.

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, mostly members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious community, have gotten measles since September.

The order, which applies to anyone who lives, works or goes to school in four ZIP codes in the neighborhood, comes just as federal health officials announced measles cases have spiked once more nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 465 measles cases have been reported so far this year, up from 387 the week before.

The New York City declaration requires all unvaccinated people who may have been exposed to the virus to get the vaccine, including children over 6 months old. People who ignore the order could be fined $1,000. The city said it would help everyone covered by the order get the vaccine if they can't obtain it quickly through their regular medical provider.

"If people will simply cooperate quickly, nobody will have to pay a fine," de Blasio said.

New York City's health commissioner is empowered by law to issue such orders in cases where they might be necessary to protect against a serious public health threat.

Earlier this week, the city ordered religious schools and day care programs serving that community to exclude unvaccinated students or risk being closed down.

Officials say 285 cases of measles have been confirmed in New York City since the beginning of the outbreak in October. Most cases have been reported from Williamsburg and Borough Park — two Brooklyn neighborhoods with large ultra-Orthodox Jewish populations, in which vaccination rates tend to be lower. So far, 21 people have been hospitalized.

Neighborhood officials said the vast majority of Orthodox Jews in Williamsburg are vaccinated, but because the community is so tightly knit, just a small number of anti-vaxers is allowing this outbreak to grow.

"There is no religious exemption on measles," Gary Schlesinger, CEO of Parcare Community Health Network, told CBS New York. "All rabbis, all prominent rabbis have issued proclamations that everyone should vaccinate."

Schlesinger is trying to reverse false information being spread about the measles vaccine through the Orthodox community.

"They're spreading this information through hotlines, some publications. I've seen some mailings," Schlesinger said.

New York City accounted for about two-thirds of all U.S. measles cases reported last week. But areas outside the city are also seeing a surge in cases.
  
Last week, a state judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking suburban Rockland County's emergency order banning children from public places unless they've been vaccinated against measles. Civil rights lawyer Michael Sussman called the ban "arbitrary and capricious."  

The county had enacted the 30-day emergency order to fight a measles outbreak that has infected at least 166 people since October. Rockland's outbreak has most heavily affected Orthodox Jewish communities.
  
Health officials say the best way to stop the disease's spread is a vaccination rate in the community of 92 to 95 percent.
  
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children get two doses of measles vaccine. It says the vaccine is 97% effective.