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NYC Health Department Puts Yeshiva Schools In Williamsburg On Notice: Allow Unvaccinated Students In At Own Peril

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City officials are cracking down on schools in Brooklyn that allow unvaccinated children to attend, telling them to comply or be shut down.

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, CBS2's Ali Bauman reported Monday.

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

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Brooklyn measles
(Photo: CBS2)

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.


Since the measles outbreak began in October, the Department of Health says there have been 285 reported cases in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community, 246 of which are children. And so far, 21 people have been hospitalized.

As a result, the health department now says any yeshiva school in Williamsburg allowing unvaccinated students to attend will face fines or possibly be shut down.

"If you ask me, I say do it. Immunize your child, save lives," one resident said.

"It has nothing to do with Judaism. People are afraid. It's damaging. People are afraid of the medicine," another person said.

City Councilman Stephen Levin represents Williamsburg.

"Every child has to be registered and we can work with the schools to do this," Levin said.

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In Rockland County, there have been 167 confirmed cases of measles. On Friday, a Supreme Court judge blocked an executive order banning unvaccinated children from public places.

"It's happening around New York state. It's only going to spread unless we fix the problems in the system, and the problems are we have way too lax of a requirement," state Sen. David Carlucci said.

New York City ordered yeshivas to ban unvaccinated students in December, but said one in Williamsburg did not comply and has since been linked to more than 40 cases.

"Oversight from one of the administrators who thought the breakout had stopped," Schlesinger said. "But by now, I've spoken to many administrators. Most of them ... all of them are very strict about the orders."

So will this plan be more effective?

"I'm going to be focusing on this and putting out a bigger plan," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "But right now we're going to have inspectors out. We have clear penalties, clear sanctions."

Neighborhood officials said it is particularly important for members of this community to get vaccinated now because next week families will be gathering for the start of Passover.

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