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Health Emergency: City Mandates Vaccinations For Children And Adults Or Face $1,000 Fine

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The city has declared a public health emergency and mandated vaccinations for children and adults or risk facing a $1,000 fine.

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 have gotten measles since September. Officials blamed the outbreak on "anti-vaxxers" spreading false information.

The order applies to anyone living, working or going to school in four ZIP codes in the neighborhood and requires all unvaccinated people at risk of exposure to the virus to get the vaccine, including children over 6 months old.

The city can't legally physically force someone to get a vaccination, but officials said 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 get it quickly through their regular medical provider.


De Blasio, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio and NYC Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said the dramatic move was necessary to halt the potential of spreading the disease ahead of the holidays. Both passover and Easter, when families travel, can help spread measles to those not vaccinated.

"This message today for all New Yorkers is to take measles seriously," de Blasio said. "The Department of Health will issue violations and fines to people who remain unvaccinated."

Palacio said she's troubled by the latest trends.

"There is an organized effort to encourage people to not get vaccinated," Palacio said.

Barbot and Palacio also warned about parents holding "measles parties" to expose their children to the disease as contributing factors to the outbreak.

"We have also heard reports of people attending so-called measles parties, bringing children together to purposely get exposed to measles," said Palacio. "As a parent, I have no doubt that each and every parent is making decisions based out of what they believe is best for their children. But as a doctor, a public health practitioner, and a mom, I must warn you that exposing your unvaccinated child to measles is very dangerous, and it could even be deadly."

MORE: Why Measles Parties Are A Bad Idea For Parents

In 2017, New York City saw two cases of measles. Two years later, the city is approaching 300 confirmed infections.

Web Extra: De Blasio, Palacio, Barbot Accounce New York Health Emergency:

Officials say 285 measles cases have been confirmed in New York City since the beginning of the outbreak, the largest in the city since 1991.

New York City accounted for about two-thirds of all U.S. measles cases reported last week.

The city's health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, said that the majority of religious leaders in Brooklyn's large Orthodox communities support vaccination efforts, but that rates have remained low in some areas because of resistance from some groups that believe the inoculations are dangerous.

"This outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods. They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science," Barbot said. "We stand with the majority of people in this community who have worked hard to protect their children and those at risk. We've seen a large increase in the number of people vaccinated in these neighborhoods, but as Passover approaches, we need to do all we can to ensure more people get the vaccine."

The commissioner is empowered by law to issue such orders in cases when they might be necessary to protect against a serious public health threat.

On Monday, New York City officials warned yeshiva schools in Brooklyn that if they allow unvaccinated children to attend, they may be fined or even shut down.

Since the measles outbreak began in October, there have been 285 reported cases in the Orthodox Jewish community -- of which 246 cases have been children -- and 21 people ended up hospitalized, CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis reported.

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.

"I want to set the record straight. This vaccine is safe. This vaccine not only protects your child but it protects other people's children," Palacio 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.

"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."

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.

City Councilman Stephen Levin represents Williamsburg.

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

MORERockland County Officials Searching For Solution To Ongoing Measles Outbreak

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.

"I'm going to be focusing on this and putting out a bigger plan," Mayor de Blasio said Monday. "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.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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