New York City makes measles vaccine mandatory following spike in cases

2019 is on track to becoming a record-high year for measles cases in the U.S.

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  • Residents in parts of New York City will be required to get the measles vaccine or face a fine of $1,000.
  • New York City has reported more than 280 measles cases since an outbreak struck an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community last fall.
  • Nationally, there have been more than 460 measles cases so far in 2019.

Residents in select parts of New York City will be required to get vaccinated for measles following a spike in reported cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday.

De Blasio declared a public health emergency for select zip codes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community with a large concentration of unvaccinated people. Adults and children who choose not to get vaccinated are prohibited from entering schools, and adults could face fines up to $1,000.

"This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately," Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference. "The measles vaccine works. It is safe. It is effective. It is time-tested."

The Brooklyn cases were traced back to an unvaccinated child who contracted measles during a trip to Israel, the Washington Post reports. New York City has reported a total of 285 measles cases since an outbreak struck last fall, the New York Times reports.

Nationally, measles cases rose by 78 last week, raising the total number of 465 measles cases across the country so far in 2019, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday. That number already exceeds the 372 cases the country reported for all of 2018, and it's "the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000," CDC officials said Monday.

"The numbers serve as a kick in the butt that says, hey, we probably should start paying attention to vaccination again," Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor at Butler University who has a doctorate in public health, told USA TODAY. "One of the most challenging aspects of public health is balancing between individual liberty, for people who don't want the vaccine for whatever reason, and what is best for everyone."

A total of 19 states have reported measles cases this year. Federal health officials said these outbreaks likely stemmed from unvaccinated travelers who contracted measles abroad and returned to the U.S. where they inadvertently spread the virus in communities where anti-vaccination sentiment runs strong.

One thing that's obstructing communities nationwide from reaching herd immunity — the level of immunization a population needs to achieve to prevent the spread of the virus — is doctors who liberally prescribe children medical exemptions from vaccination. In California, for instance, children can only attend public schools without vaccinations if they receive a doctor-prescribed medical exemption. But, as a recent Vice report describes, some parents are skirting the law by finding doctors willing to write unnecessary medical exemptions, or hand them out for cash, both of which lead to high shares of unvaccinated kids in schools.

"We cannot allow a small number of unethical physicians to put our children back at risk," said State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). "It's time to stop fake medical exemptions and the doctors who are selling them."

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