NYC closes Williamsburg child care center amid measles outbreak

The city shuttered a Williamsburg child care center located within the measles outbreak zone Monday for failing to turn over medical and attendance records.

According to the city’s Health Department, the United Talmudical Academy on Ross Street refused to disclose records that could show whether it was excluding children and staff with measles from its child care program.

Since a health emergency was declared less than a week ago, the Health Department has identified 44 additional measles cases, bringing the total number of cases since October to 329.

As part of the health emergency, people who live in the sections of Williamsburg where the outbreak is centered must be vaccinated for measles. Mayor Bill de Blasio traveled to Williamsburg for the initial health emergency announcement on April 9, and pledged that any school that allows unvaccinated students and staff to attend could be fined and closed down.

Officials said 284 of the measles cases are in children under the age of 18. There were only two cases of measles in New York City for all of 2017.

“This outbreak will continue to worsen, and the case count will grow if child care programs and schools do not follow our direction,” Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said in a statement. “It’s crucial in this outbreak that child care programs and schools maintain up to date and accurate immunization and attendance records.”

The city has issued violations to 23 yeshivas and day care programs for not complying with the order.

The United Talmudical Academy could not be immediately reached for comment.

The majority of cases are found in members of the Orthodox Jewish community who live in Williamsburg and Borough Park, officials said. The outbreak was traced to people who had contracted the disease during a trip to Israel.

A group of parents, however, are fighting the city’s vaccination mandate with a lawsuit. 

The parents, who were only identified in the suit as C.F., M.F., B.D., M.N., and A.L., sought an injunction against the city in court documents filed Monday. The suit contends there is insufficient evidence that the current outbreak warrants an emergency order.

The suit claims the "effectiveness of the MMR vaccine and the risk of harm to vaccinated people are exaggerated, inaccurate and misleading," and noted that it puts recipients at risk for side effects such as seizures and brain injury. The mothers are represented by Robert J. Krakow and, in part, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent advocate of the anti-vaccination movement. 

The suit also contends that the emergency order, which imposes a fine on parents for not vaccinating their children, "improperly invalidate(s) the petitioners’ children’s religious exemptions obtained in full compliance with Public Health Law."

Two studies cited by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control say for every 10,000 children between 12- and 23-months-old who took the vaccine, only four suffered a seizure between seven and 10 days after they received the shot. 

A representative for the city’s Law Department said the Supreme Court has upheld the right of local governments to mandate the vaccination of its citizens to stop outbreaks, and that this epidemic was preventable. 

"We had to take this additional action to fulfill our obligation to ensure that individuals do not continue to put the health of others at risk. We are confident that the city’s order is within the Health Commissioner’s authority to address the very serious danger presented by this measles outbreak," the spokesman said in a statement.