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County's ban amid measles outbreak spurs vaccinations and protests

N.Y. county faces measles outbreak
N.Y. county faces measles outbreak 03:19

Two days after health officials in a suburban New York county declared a state of emergency and banned unvaccinated children from going out in public spaces amid an ongoing measles outbreak, parents are having mixed reactions.

Some, like Rockland County resident Lainie Goldstein, reluctantly brought their kids to the doctor to get vaccinated. Goldstein received a call from her son's principal that he couldn't attend school unless he received the MMR vaccine. She told the Journal News that she had previously decided not to get her son vaccinated because it's her right to "not want to injure" her child.

"I feel like I am being bullied right now to go get vaccinations," she told the paper. Goldstein was one of 10 parents at a local pediatrician's office around noon to get their children vaccinated.

The Associated Press reported about 30 people got measles vaccinations at a free county clinic Wednesday.

The ban, which began at midnight Wednesday and is in effect for 30 days, found support among residents there.

"I think that something needs to be done that has to be very drastic, that people need to comply and we've got to stop this," Rockland resident Renee Kahan, who stopped by the clinic for a booster shot, told the Associated Press. "This outbreak is serious."

But a handful of other parents turned out at the Palisades Center mall in West Nyack Thursday morning to protest the county's actions. A small gathering of about 10 people met in response to  a Facebook event called "Rockland County — Unvaccinated Civil Disobedience," the Journal News reported.

"This is about healthy people being quarantined and barred from public places," Rita Palma of Long Island, one of the women who gathered at the mall this morning, told the paper. "People have a right to choose for their own children and make their own decisions."

Measles outbreak in Rockland County

According to the latest figures, there have been 155 confirmed cases of measles in Rockland County, which is located about 40 miles north of New York City. The majority of cases have been in children, most of whom were unvaccinated.

The outbreak began in the fall, when an international traveler arrived in the county with a suspected case of the measles. Six additional cases of measles from international travelers to the area followed, exposing more people to the virus.

The outbreak was centered in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where many residents had not been vaccinated. In a press conference on Tuesday, County Executive Ed Day noted that many Orthodox rabbis have been working with health officials to encourage vaccination in their community.

The cases are currently clustered in eastern Ramapo, though officials warn exposure may occur anywhere in the county. The Health Department is working to limit exposures and offering free vaccine to boost the county's immunization rate.

What the ban is — and what it isn't

The state of emergency in Rockland County declares that anyone under 18 who hasn't been vaccinated will be banned from public places for 30 days or until the individual gets vaccinated.

Public places affected by the order include shopping centers, businesses, restaurants, schools, and places of worship. People who have a medical reason why they shouldn't get vaccinated are exempt from the ban.

Officials say they believe this is the first effort of its kind anywhere in the U.S. "The circumstances we're facing here clearly calls for that," Day said.

He emphasized that law enforcement will not be stopping people and asking everyone for their vaccination records. But he warned that parents of unvaccinated children "will be held accountable" if they are found to be in violation. Day said they could face a class B misdemeanor charge, potentially resulting in a $500 penalty or six months in jail.

The importance of vaccination

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 but still arrives periodically with overseas travelers.

The virus is extremely contagious and can live and be passed to someone for up to two hours after an infected person has left the room. About 90 percent of people who are not immune will get sick if they're exposed to the virus.

One dose of the MMR vaccine — which protects against measles, mumps and rubella — is 93 percent effective, and two doses are about 97 percent effective. Herd immunity, when at least 90-95 percent of the population is vaccinated, helps protect infants and people with weakened immune systems who are unable to get the vaccine.

Serious complications from measles can include pneumonia or encephalitis (brain swelling), leading to blindness or deafness, and in some cases death.

Day said he hopes the emergency declaration encourages everyone who should to get vaccinated.

"This is an opportunity for everyone in the community to do the right thing for their neighbors and come together," he said. "We must do everything in our power to end this outbreak and protect the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and that of children too young to be vaccinated."

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