A Measles Epidemic, ft. Rockland County and Brooklyn


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define measles as a highly contagious virus that starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat, followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. The number of measles cases in the United States has skyrocketed in the past few months due to an influx of U.S. citizens refusing to vaccinate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 695 confirmed cases of measles in 22 states this year. This is the largest number of cases reported in the country since the vaccine-preventable virus was eliminated in 2000. This number is on the rise, with the rapid transmission of this disease in communities where vaccinations are not perceived as medically necessary. Specifically, these measles outbreaks are prevalent amongst Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City and Rockland County. As of April 24, 2019, there are 200 confirmed reported cases of measles in Rockland County. In Westchester, there have only been eight cases reported thus far. Although the virus has not had any lasting effects, researchers that study the virus are concerned the outbreaks could lead to longer-term implications for diagnosed patients, or possibly death.

The outbreaks are widespread in Rockland County and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Members of Orthodox Jewish communities who question the validity of vaccinations make up a majority of the measles patients. According to Orthodox Rabbi William Handler of Williamsburg Brooklyn, the measles vaccination (MMR) has been linked to the development of autism in the past. The connection between vaccines and autism, however, has been rejected by the vast majority of medical professionals.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, has declared a public health emergency in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, requiring unvaccinated individuals to receive the measles vaccine or the city plans to issue violations and fines of $1,000 for those who do not comply. Investigators tracked down the allegedly unvaccinated children, by approaching the doorsteps of their homes and warning the parents of the children of the charges they will face. Rockland County initially imposed a law on unvaccinated children preventing them from going into indoor places, such as school, malls, stores, and restaurants. This directive was overturned by a Rockland judge and subsequent appeals have been denied. However, Rockland renewed its local State of Emergency on April 25th that will remain in effect until May 25, 2019. According to the new Commissioner’s orders, anyone with measles or anyone exposed to the illness must avoid public spaces or face a $2,000-a-day fine. Some schools in Westchester County have prohibited travel to Rockland County schools for sporting events and other competitions.

Currently, SHS follows NY State guidelines, which require that every student past a certain age must be vaccinated, although there are medical and religious exceptions. In Scarsdale, 99.8% of the students are vaccinated, and 100% of students at SHS specifically are vaccinated. “As a nurse, I believe in vaccinations, but that’s my personal belief. I work in a school where I follow the state guidelines as part of my profession,” said SHS nurse Adrienne Notaro. She noted how not vaccinating for religious reasons can cause the disease to spread in a community. “There are certain people that are at risk if they are immunocompromised and babies that are not vaccinated yet because you have to be a certain age to get vaccines. It can be harmful to these people if they come into contact with someone who is not vaccinated and has the disease,” added Notaro. New York City has been addressing this issue for months with education and mandatory vaccinations in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

In response to de Blasio’s reaction, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA, had thoughts opposing his plan of attack on the situation. “I think it’s unfortunate if we go down this route, because I think it’s going to play right into the fears of people who don’t believe in vaccination if we come in with a state or federal mandate,” said Gottlieb. It is likely that there is going to be more restricted behavior in terms of requiring vaccinations to enter school and federal consequences to not getting vaccinated.

“We’re reaching a dangerous point where there are enough pockets of under-vaccination that we have the potential for a national outbreak of measles,” added Gottlieb. Other than declaring a public health emergency, Gottlieb explained how the government could deal with a national outbreak. “Tying federal aid to certain districts based on vaccination rates is another option. There are ways to do this through policy to incentivize local districts to do more to…encourage vaccination,” said Gottlieb.

Ultimately, legal changes may have to be made on the federal level in order to prevent the inflow of even more measles cases. As previously mentioned, measles is highly contagious, and younger children are especially vulnerable to getting the virus. “New York State may change some of the rules and regulations regarding vaccines. They may remove religious exemptions and make people across the board get these vaccinations to attend school. I think we are moving towards this trend because the outbreaks are becoming more prevalent, especially in Rockland County,” noted Notaro. Currently, federal policy on vaccinations has remained the same, although it is highly anticipated that some major changes will be made in the future.