World

New York declares public health emergency after measles outbreak

Officials will impose fines of up to $1,350 on those who have not received the vaccines

NEW YORK A measles outbreak in Brooklyn prompted New York City to declare a public health emergency, requiring unvaccinated people in the affected areas to get the vaccine or face fines.

The city's largest outbreak since 1991 of the once virtually eradicated disease has mainly been confined to the Orthodox Jewish community in the borough's Williamsburg neighborhood, with 285 cases confirmed since October, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.

That is up from only two reported cases in all of 2017.

"This is the epicentre of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately," Mr de Blasio said. He was joined by city health officials who decried what they called "misinformation" spread by opponents of vaccines.

The measles virus is highly contagious and can lead to serious complications and death.

While there have been no confirmed deaths so far, 21 people have been hospitalised, with five admitted to intensive care, officials said.

The Brooklyn outbreak has been traced to an unvaccinated child who became infected on a visit to Israel, which is also grappling with an outbreak, according to New York City's Department of Health.

Officials will impose fines of up to US$1,000 (S$1,350) on those who have not received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and cannot give other evidence of immunity, such as having previously had measles.

Community leaders and doctors welcomed the move.

"We will make sure that everybody who is allowed will be vaccinated," Rabbi David Niederman, the president of the United Jewish Organisations of Williamsburg, said in a phone interview. "The schools are cooperating, everyone's cooperating."

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

"You get phony, phony articles and studies, so yes, some people will fall for that," he said. "They will do anything and everything to improve the health of their children."

Federal officials are also tracking outbreaks in New Jersey, California, Michigan and Washington state.

A growing and vocal fringe of parents oppose vaccines believing, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in the vaccines can cause autism or other disorders.

City officials also expressed alarm at reports of parents holding "measles parties", where they intentionally expose their unvaccinated children to an infected child in the mistaken belief that doing so is a safe way to create immunity. - REUTERS

WORLD