- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2019

This year’s measles outbreak is on track to be the biggest since the sometimes deadly virus was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

The most recent tally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 465 cases across the U.S. so far this year, two-thirds of them in New York state. There are also significant outbreaks in Washington state, California, Michigan and New Jersey. Last year’s overall total was 372 cases.

America’s largest urban area, New York City, has taken the extraordinary move of making vaccinations mandatory for some people who may have been exposed to the measles virus in a hard-hit, predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Elsewhere in the country, health officials are scrambling to diagnose victims, identify hot spots and disseminate information about the outbreak, which has been reported in a total 19 states, most recently in Maryland.

New York City’s emergency action, which Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged was “unusual” and driven by “the sheer extent of the crisis,” has seen health officials intensify their fight in the Williamsburg and Borough Park neighborhoods, which have reported more than 285 measles cases since October, compared to two in all of 2017.

The mayor’s order, announced Tuesday, mandated that everyone who lives, works or attends school in the affected area get immunized against the disease within 48 hours or face a $1,000 fine.

The measles virus was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Health officials blame its resurgence on falling vaccination rates fueled by myths that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine increases the risk of children developing autism. The bogus information has been debunked several times.

On Thursday, New York City public health officials were wrestling with the logistics of dealing with an estimated 1,800 children in the affected eras who they believe haven’t been immunized.

City health officials declined to comment on the mayor’s order. A volunteer at the city’s measles hotline said people who called in were being encouraged to get inoculations and report on whether they know people who recently had or now have the measles.

Opponents of the order are trying to block it in court, according to New York City civil attorney Michael Sussman, whose office confirmed that he is involved in legal matters related to the issue. Mr. Sussman told local New York media that he hoped to file a lawsuit by Friday.

He also represents parents in Rockland County, a New York City suburb with a large Orthodox Jewish community, who challenged a local government executive order barring unvaccinated children from indoor public spaces.

Since October, Rockland County has experienced a measles outbreak of more than 160 confirmed cases.

A state judge sided with Mr. Sussman and the parents, issuing a preliminary injunction against the county’s emergency order.

“I don’t expect that people are running out [to get vaccinated]. I’m not even sure that people know about it,” Robert Krakow, a New York personal injury lawyer and prominent anti-vaccine advocate, told The New York Post about the city’s emergency order.

On Thursday, a handful of clinics in the affected area that The Washington Times contacted did not report a surge in vaccination request.

Some public health experts say the issue highlights a growing tension between infectious disease vaccination requirements and the religious liberty arguments increasingly relied upon to justify denying inoculations.

“As a society we’ve said we’ll allow a little bit of flexibility in our laws in order to give people a wider berth to exercise their personal beliefs,” Indiana University public health law professor Ross D. Silverman recently told Wired magazine. “And for decades that vaccine policy has been largely effective.”

Recent years have seen multiple states across America expand the personal exemptions process but Mr. Silverman added that concerns could now swing that balance back toward public safety as concerns over the measles mount.

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