- New York’s Rockland County banned unvaccinated minors from public spaces to counter a measles epidemic.
- The county, around 30 miles from New York City, has recorded 153 cases of the disease since October.
- Parents who violate the order could face a $US500 fine or up to 6 months in jail.
- Measles is one of the most infectious viruses on earth, according to the Centres for Disease and Control and Prevention.
New York State’s Rockland County has banned unvaccinated children and teenagers from public spaces amid a severe measles outbreak.
County executive Ed Day declared a state of emergency in a press conference on Tuesday, after the county recorded 153 cases of measles in less than six months.
The executive order barring unvaccinated minors from schools, malls, restaurants, and places of worship came into effect on Tuesday at midnight. It will last 30 days.
Rockland County, which is around 30 miles from New York City, had previously tried to counter the highly infectious illness by amping up vaccinations, and banning unvaccinated pupils from certain schools.
Parents who violate the order could face a $US500 fine and up to 6 months in prison.
“We believe this to be the first such effort of this kind nationally and the circumstances we face here clearly call for that,” Day said.
Officials decided to double down the ban when the outbreak entered its 26th week, the longest since the disease was eradicated in the US in 2000, according to Day. Indigenous measles was eliminated in North America in the early 2000s, but cases persist thanks to foreign travellers entering the US with the virus.
The ban comes as the US grapples with the so-called “anti-vaxxer” movement, which sees parents refuse to vaccinate their children. One of the most frequently cited concerns among “anti-vaxxers” is that vaccines may lead to autism, a claim that scientists have debunked repeatedly.
About 90% of people who have not received the MMR vaccine and are exposed to infected people contract the disease, according to the the Centres for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDCP). Children are especially at risk, with complications like pneumonia or death not uncommon.
In 2018, the US experienced 17 measles outbreaks, with most of the cases concentrated in New York and New Jersey, according to the CDCP.
Outbreaks occur when infected travellers bring measles to communities, and it then spreads in a pocket of unvaccinated people.
Rockland County’s epidemic started with the arrival of of seven travellers who were diagnosed with the virus, Day said. The disease is now most concentrated in the county’s Orthodox Jewish community where anti-vaccination literature is widespread, according to the New York Times.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz from Rockland told the newspaper that he supports vaccinations, but worries the order may subject ultra-Orthodox Jews to harassment.
But Jason L. Schwartz, a health policy professor at Yale University, said the ban could stop measles from circulating among unvaccinated people.
“I think this is a measure that would highlight the stakes of measles and that would put a stop to these outbreaks,” he told the New York Times.
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