New York City declares health emergency over measles outbreak in Williamsburg

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Since last fall, almost 300 people, mostly children, have come down with measles in New York City, with the majority centered in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn.

Speaking at a press briefing on the emergency declaration, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said people who remain unvaccinated in the affected area will face fines. "I urge everyone, especially those in affected areas, to get their [mumps-measles-rubella] vaccines to protect their children, families and communities".

All unvaccinated adults and children who live or work in Williamsburg are ordered to receive an MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine within 48 hours, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot announced during a news conference Tuesday. "But if people just go and get vaccinated, there is no need for a fine".

"If anyone is thinking of a legal challenge we are absolutely comfortable that we will win that case", de Blasio said.

A public health emergency was declared in New York City on Tuesday due to a measles outbreak - and health officials are warning against the idea of "measles parties".

The mandatory vaccination order follows one 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. So far, 21 people have been hospitalized.

The outbreak began when an unvaccinated child visited Israel, where thousands of people have been sick, contracted the disease, and came back to Brooklyn. As of late last week, there had been at least 166 confirmed cases there.

Most of the NY cases involved unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals, according to Mr de Blasio's office.

"This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately", de Blasio said, who also assured the public that the vaccine "is safe".

Barbot cited a group of "anti-vaxxers" who are seeking to undermine the public health emergency.

"To challenge the unsafe misinformation that is being spread by a group of anti-vaxxers, it's crucial that everyone around them be vaccinated to shield them from infection", Barbot said. "The only way to stop this outbreak is to ensure that people who have not been vaccinated get the vaccine".

Measles "parties" stems from the once-popular trend of "pox parties" - intentionally exposing children to chickenpox, before the Varicella vaccine was rolled out in 1995. Non-immune pregnant women are at particular risk, she said.

Barbot said that the majority of religious leaders in the large Orthodox communities support vaccination efforts, but that rates have remained low in some areas because of a resistance "fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods".

Measles can be prevented through vaccinations.

Although measles was declared officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, a total of 465 cases have been confirmed in 19 states from January 1 to April 4, according to the CDC.

"I've seen some mailings", Schlesinger said.

It said the vaccine was 97 per cent effective.

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