Escape from New York's Measles

Today in Security: Escape from New York's Measles

​​​​​Although no one is calling in Snake Plissken, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for mandatory vaccinations for measles in response to a public health emergency from an outbreak affecting an Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

Unvaccinated persons living in certain zip codes must receive vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). Anyone who has not been vaccinated or cannot provide evidence of their immunity could be guilty of committing a misdemeanor and fined $1,000. The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check vaccination records of anyone who may have come into contact with patients infected by the measles outbreak. The virus is highly infectious and can survive in an environment even after an infected person leaves. For anyone unvaccinated and later infected, the disease requires expensive treatment.

De Blasio declared the public health emergency ​​on 9 April, after 285 cases of measles were reported in Brooklyn and Queens. The same outbreak, which began in October 2018, caused additional cases in Orange and Rockland counties in New York, according to CNN.

So far, of the 285 confirmed cases, 21 patients have been hospitalized, including five that required treatment in intensive care units.

"Vaccines are considered to be a national security tool," Laura Spadanuta wrote for ​Security Management's November 2010 issue in the article "Planning for Pandemics." The article explored how understanding a population's psychological reactions to emergencies can assist in improving public health efforts, like forced vaccinations.

According to NPR, New York City's Health Department ordered that if any yeshivas in Williamsbutg continued defying a mandatory exclusion or quarantine of unvaccinated children, the facilities will immediately be cited with a violation, fines, and possibly school closures. The immunization rate against measles is especially low in Williamsburg among Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities, which the Health Department claims allows the virus to quickly increase. 

Prior to the recent declarations, city officials attempted education and outreach, working with the community in Williamsburg, such as cooperation with rabbis and distributing fliers that encouraged vaccinations for children, according to the New York Times.

​​Rockland County health officials also banned unvaccinated children from entering public places for 30 days, although the ban was temporaily set aside by a judge earlier this month.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two doses of the MMR vaccine are roughly 97 percent effective at preventing the disease. Although the virus was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, travelers presented new cases. The CDC noted meales is still common in other countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. This latest outbreak was triggered when an unvaccinated child was infected while visiting Israel, where a large outbreak is also occurring.

In 2017, a measles outbreak in Minnesota was cited as the largest over the past 30 years, with more than 51 cases of reported. At least 465 cases have been reported in the U.S. since 1 January, 2019.