New York City Declares a Public Health Emergency

The New York City area has been in the middle of a measles outbreak for several months now. Many in the Orthodox Jewish community there do not believe in immunizations, even though most Jewish religious leaders and scholars agree that there is no prohibition against immunizations in the religious mandates. As a result, the outbreak has continued unabated.

On April 9, 2019, Mayor de Blasio declared a public health emergency. As a result, the immunization records of those who are exposed to measles will be scrutinized. If they are not immunized, they will be offered the vaccine. If they refuse the vaccine, they will be fined up to $1,000.

Mayor de Blasio said, “This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately… The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested.”

Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the Health Commissioner for the City of New York, explained that the intent of the emergency declaration was to encourage immunization uptake. She added that the city will look at those refusing to be immunized on a “case by case basis.”

As we covered the quarantine in Rockland County, New York, (which is just north of New York City), we mentioned other quarantines that have been instituted previously in response to measles and other diseases becoming epidemic. Although this emergency declaration is not a quarantine, per se, Mayor de Blasio did send out the following message on Twitter: “Unvaccinated children in the zip codes of 11205, 11206, 11221 and 11249 may not return to school or daycare for the duration of this outbreak. If you choose to not vaccinate, you will be fined. We have to protect our kids and our families.”

In the Rockland County situation, a judge issued an injunction against the order for unvaccinated children from being in public places. The judge’s reasoning was not that the public health authorities did not have the authority to issue the quarantine. The judge ruled that the situation did not rise to, or was not declared, a public health emergency. This declaration by Mr. de Blasio is probably a preemptive move to prevent a judge from overruling the actions that public health is about to take in New York City to protect their residents.

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen