New York City orders mandatory vaccines in Brooklyn amid measles outbreak

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declares a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in response to a measles outbreak, requiring unvaccinated people living in the affected areas to get the vaccine or face fines.

Declaration covers people who live in four zip codes in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighbourhood

Signs promoting a measles vaccine are displayed at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., last month. The county in New York City's northern suburbs declared a local state of emergency due to a measles outbreak. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

New York City declared a public health emergency Tuesday due to a measles outbreak and ordered mandatory vaccinations in one neighbourhood for people who may have been exposed to the virus.

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, mostly members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious community, have gotten measles since September.

The order applies to anyone living, working or going to school in four zip codes in the neighbourhood.

The declaration requires all unvaccinated people who may have been exposed to the virus to get the vaccine, including children over six months old.

People who ignore the order could be fined $1,000 US. 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.

"If people will simply co-operate quickly, nobody will have to pay a fine," de Blasio said.

 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 most religious leaders in Brooklyn's large Orthodox communities support vaccination efforts, but rates have remained low in some areas because of resistance from some groups who believe the inoculations are dangerous.

"This outbreak is being fuelled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighbourhoods," Barbot said. "They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science. 

"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 neighbourhoods, but as Passover approaches, we need to do all we can to ensure more people get the vaccine."

'Everyone's co-operating'

Community leaders welcomed the move.

"We will make sure that everybody who is allowed will be vaccinated," Rabbi David Niederman, the president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, said in a phone interview with Reuters

"The schools are co-operating, everyone's co-operating."

He said he had seen anti-vaccination booklets and misinformation circulate around the tightly knit community, but that most families trusted the Health Department.

New York City's health commissioner is empowered by law to issue such orders in cases where there's a potentially serious public health threat.

Earlier this week, the city ordered religious schools and daycare programs serving that community to exclude unvaccinated students or risk being closed down.

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.

Another Jewish religious community, north of the city but with close ties to Brooklyn, has also seen a surge, with at least 166 cases since October. Last week, a state judge blocked an attempt by Rockland County officials to halt the spread of measles by banning unvaccinated children from public places. Rockland officials are appealing.

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 (CDC). Outbreaks have also occurred in New Jersey, California, Michigan and Washington state.

The CDC recommends that all children get two doses of the measles vaccine. It says the vaccine is 97 per cent effective.

With files from Reuters