NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn on Tuesday in response to a measles outbreak, requiring unvaccinated people living in the affected areas to get the vaccine or face fines.
The city’s largest measles outbreak since 1991 has mainly been confined to the Orthodox Jewish community in the borough of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, with 285 cases confirmed since October, de Blasio said at a news conference. That compares to only two reported cases in 2017.
“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” de Blasio said. He was joined by health officials who decried what they called “misinformation” spread by opponents of vaccination.
The disease is easily spread and can be fatal. While there have been no confirmed deaths so far, 21 people have been hospitalized, with five admitted to intensive care, officials said. All but 39 of the confirmed cases are in children.
The outbreak is part of a broader resurgence in the United States, with 465 cases reported in 19 states so far this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Brooklyn outbreak has been traced to an unvaccinated child who became infected on a visit to Israel, which is also grappling with a measles outbreak, according to New York City’s Department of Health.
Officials from the Department of Health will check vaccination records of anyone who has been in contact with infected patients in certain parts of Brooklyn, officials said.
Those who have not received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, and cannot give other evidence of immunity, such as having previously had the measles, will face a fine of up to $1,000.
It is the first time New York City has ordered mandatory vaccinations in recent history, according to health officials.
The mandatory vaccination order follows an order from the Health Department last week requiring yeshivas and day-care programs serving Williamsburg’s Orthodox Jewish community to exclude unvaccinated children or face fines or closure.
Another outbreak has hit Orthodox Jewish families in New York’s Rockland County. Officials there banned children not vaccinated against measles from public spaces last month.
That order was overturned by a state judge on Friday, who said the reported number of cases fell short of an epidemic, local media reported.
A growing and vocal fringe of parents oppose vaccinations, believing, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in the vaccines can cause autism or other disorders.
“There is a campaign with very intentional efforts to give misinformation,” Herminia Palacio, the city’s deputy mayor for public health, said at the news conference.
Health officials also expressed alarm at reports of parents in the city holding so-called “measles parties,” where they intentionally expose their unvaccinated children to an infected child in the mistaken belief doing so is a safe means to create immunity.
“I understand that parents may be afraid of getting their children vaccinated,” New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said at the news conference. “I know that getting vaccinated is far safer than getting measles.”
Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus; Editing by Bill Berkrot