Orthodox Jewish schools in New York have been ordered to ban unvaccinated students, as measles cases in the city continue to climb “at an alarming rate” within the Orthodox community, health officials said.
The New York City Department of Health said in a bulletin Monday that yeshivas in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that do not comply will face fines and possible closure.
In a similar directive late last year, the department ordered yeshivas and child-care centers in the Orthodox Jewish community in the area to keep unvaccinated students out of school during the measles outbreak. One school, which violated the mandate, has been linked to more than 40 cases, the department said.
"This outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods. They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science,” Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, a pediatrician, said in the statement. “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.”
The Health Department said 285 measles cases have been recorded in Brooklyn and Queens over the past six months, most of them in the Orthodox Jewish communities, where there has been reluctance to vaccinate children. Williamsburg has had the highest number of measles cases — 228 — followed by Borough Park, Brooklyn, with 49.
The outbreak in the area has been tied to a child who had not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and contracted the disease during a trip to Israel. “Since then, there have been additional people from Brooklyn and Queens who were unvaccinated and acquired measles while in Israel,” according to the Health Department.
U.S. health officials said this week that the number of measles cases across the country has climbed to 465 — the highest number in the past five years.
The number of people sickened by the highly contagious, occasionally deadly disease climbed by 78 during the first week of April, as four more states reported their first cases of 2019. Now, measles has been found in more than a third of U.S. states — up and down both coasts, and across the plains, the Midwest and the South — with most of the illnesses occurring in children.
In 2000, officials announced that they had eradicated measles in the United States. Yet since then, there have been years when the number of cases has surged, notably in 2014, when 667 were reported — the highest annual total since the turn of the century. That year, the disease was reported at a rate of 1.83 cases per day. In 2019, however, the rate has increased to 4.84 cases a day. If that pace continues, this year could surpass 2014 by June.
Measles is a highly contagious virus and can have serious consequences — pneumonia, brain damage, hearing loss and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, most children contracted the illness — an estimated 3 million to 4 million patients were infected each year in the country, according to CDC data.
Among reported cases before 1963, 48,000 were hospitalized each year, 400 to 500 died, and 1,000 others suffered a severe complication known as encephalitis, a condition in which the brain swells because of an infection.
In 2000 — almost four decades after parents began vaccinating their children — measles was declared eliminated in the United States.
CDC data shows that from 2000 to 2018, there were an average of 140 measles cases per year in the United States. And there were three reported fatalities during that time — one in 2002, one in 2003 and one in 2015.