NYC declares public health emergency, mandates measles vaccinations after outbreak

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency April 9 following a measles outbreak within the city, requiring individuals in affected zip codes to get vaccinated or face a $1,000 fine.

According to the mayor’s office, New York has confirmed 285 cases of measles since the outbreak began in October, with the majority of cases—246—presenting in children. The majority of cases were in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals, and while there haven’t been any fatalities to date, measles is highly contagious and can trigger complications like pneumonia and encephalitis.

The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is 97% effective in protecting patients against the measles, but even if a person’s been vaccinated, they can still be at risk for complications because the illness is so contagious. The de Blasio administration is doubling down on its decision to exclude unvaccinated minors from certain schools and daycare programs in Williamsburg, where the Orthodox Jewish community has been disproportionately affected by the outbreak, and people in the area are now required to receive the MMR vaccine.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will be checking vaccination records, and any individuals who haven’t received the vaccine or can’t show proof of immunity will be given a violation and could face a charge of up to $1,000.

“There’s no question that vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I urge everyone, especially those in affected areas, to get their MMR vaccines to protect their children, families and communities.”

Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in the statement the outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anxi-vaxxers in the Williamsburg neighborhood.

“They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science,” he said. “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 neighborhoods, but as Passover approaches, we need to do all we can to ensure more people get the vaccine.”

New Yorkers can call 311 for a list of facilities that provide the MMR vaccine at a low cost or for free.