A New York City suburb has announced a ban against children who aren’t vaccinated against measles from schools, markets and other public spaces, amidst one of the worst U.S. outbreaks in decades of the sometimes-fatal disease. Rockland County Executive Ed Day said the ban which went into effect at midnight March 27th, will target parents who refuse to give their children the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella. “Effective at the stroke of midnight tonight, March 27th, anyone who is under 18 years of age and is unvaccinated against the measles will be barred from public places until the declaration expires in 30 days or until they receive at least their first shot of MMR.”
The order, which will affect an estimated 6,000 unvaccinated children and their families – was put into effect amid an outbreak, which has seen at least 214 people infected with measles since last October. The outbreak began when an unvaccinated resident became infected while visiting Israel and returned with the disease. The outbreak has mostly been confined to an area with particularly low vaccination rates, Rockland County’s Orthodox Jewish community- which has 153 confirmed cases-mostly unvaccinated children under the age of 18. Measles is a highly contagious virus that is prevented with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The CDC recommends that the two-dose vaccine be given first at 12 to 15 months of age and then between ages 4 and 6. The outbreak in Rockland County has been the longest outbreak in the United States since before measles was declared eliminated in 2000.
Ed Day said the outbreak will not go on indefinitely. “This is a public health crisis, and it is time to sound the alarm, to ensure that everyone takes proper action to protect themselves and their neighbors; for the health and safety of all of us in Rockland,” he said in a news release. “Public places include synagogues, churches, schools, restaurants, stores and public buses. Public places are defined as: a place where more than 10 persons are intended to congregate” the news release says. Children who are current with the vaccine schedule but not fully vaccinated against measles because they are not old enough are exempt from the order. The order does not apply to people who are older than 18 because “we did not want to prevent anyone from going to work,” but unvaccinated adults are also encouraged to get vaccinated.
Nearly 17,000 vaccinations have been administered in the county during the outbreak. “As this outbreak has continued, our inspectors have begun to meet resistance from those they are trying to protect. They have been hung up on or told not to call again. They’ve been told ‘we’re not discussing this; do not come back’ when visiting the homes of infected individuals as part of their investigations. This type of response is unacceptable and irresponsible. It endangers the health and well-being of others and displays a shocking lack of responsibility and concern for others in our community,” Day said. He also referred to a case where an infected individual who exposed people at a Target store later stopped helping the investigators narrow down when the exposure might have happened. “We’re already seeing that chilling factor of people not cooperating with us, so from our perspective, this gives us more tools to get them to cooperate with our investigators.”
The ban will be enforced the same way any law is enforced, during the investigation into when and where an infected individual was exposed, those who are identified as unvaccinated and people in public places will be referred to the district attorney’s office. In cases that are referred to the district attorney, Day said the penalty is six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. “Just to be clear, this is not something we’re looking to do. The emergency declaration, by law, comes with that assigned. It’s the lowest crime there is. The goal is not to prosecute people. We don’t want to fine people. We want to encourage people to get vaccinated,” he said.