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City's mandatory measles vaccination order upheld by judge

The judge agreed the order was a rare but necessary step to contain a surge in the highly contagious disease.

The city has ordered mandatory measles vaccinations.

The city has ordered mandatory measles vaccinations. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Sean Gallup

A Brooklyn judge on Thursday ruled against a group of parents who challenged New York City's recently imposed mandatory measles vaccination order, rejecting their arguments that the city's public health authority exceeded its authority.

In a six-page decision rendered hours after a hearing on the matter, Judge Lawrence Knipel denied the parents' petition seeking to lift the vaccination order, imposed last week to stem the worst measles outbreak to hit the city since 1991.

The judge sided with municipal health officials who defended the order as a rare but necessary step to contain a surge in the highly contagious disease that has infected at least 329 people so far, most of them children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Williamsburg and Borough Park. The virus can cause severe complications and even death

“I am pleased the Court ruled to uphold the City’s public health Emergency Order to mandate vaccines,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We were confident this order was based on solid public health and legal grounds, and are glad the courts agreed.”

The judge rejected the parents' contention that the vaccination order was excessive or coercive, noting that it does not call for forcibly administering the vaccine to those who refuse it. Most parents who decline to get their children vaccinated profess philosophical or religious reasons or cite concerns — debunked by medical science — that the three-way measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine may cause autism.

Under the public health emergency declared last Tuesday by de Blasio, residents of certain affected neighborhoods who refuse orders to obtain an MMR vaccine face fines unless they can otherwise demonstrate immunity to measles or provide a valid medical exemption.

The court challenge was filed in Brooklyn's Supreme Court on behalf of five mothers and their children in the affected neighborhoods. Their identities were kept confidential to protect the children's privacy, their lawyers said.

They told Knipel in court on Thursday the city had overstepped its authority and that quarantining the infected would be a preferable approach.

Robert Krakow, an attorney for the parents, estimated that just 0.0006 percent of the population of Brooklyn and Queens had measles. "That's not an epidemic," he said. "It's not Ebola. It's not smallpox."

The health department's lawyers argued that quarantining was ineffective because people carrying the virus can be contagious before symptoms appear.

The judge cited 39 cases diagnosed in Michigan that have been traced to an individual traveling from the Williamsburg community at the epicenter of Brooklyn's outbreak. The surge in measles there originated with an unvaccinated child who became infected on a visit to Israel, where the highly contagious virus is also running rampant.

Krakow later told Reuters he was reviewing the judge's dismissal of the case — brought under special proceedings for the appeal of administrative actions — to determine how his clients might respond.

The New York City outbreaks are part of a larger resurgence of measles across the state and country, with at least 555 cases confirmed in 20 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared with the same period last year, the World Health Organization said this week.

With Nicole Brown

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