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  • A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019.

    A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 March 2019

Rockland County officials are banning minors without the MMR vaccine from public spaces 'to end this outbreak and protect (public) health.' 

A New York county close to the five New York buroughs has declared a state of emergency in light of an unprecedented measles outbreak that began there six months ago. Authorities there have gone so far as to ban from public places those under 18 years old who are unvaccinated with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot.

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The ban begins March 27 and will last about 30 days, or until the the minors are vaccinated, said Rockland County Executive Edward Day.

“We will not sit idly by while children in our community are at risk,” Day said in a statement. “This is a public health crisis, and it is time to sound the alarm.”

Since October there have been 153 registered cases of measles in the county located about 18 km from New York City. About 84 percent of those infected are under the age of 18, according to local news sources.

The vaccine, administered in two shots, protects against three illnesses – measles, mumps and rubella – all of which can be fatal if not treated, according to the UK National Health Service.

Under the ban unvaccinated minors will not be allowed to enter schools, restaurants, places of religious worship, stores and public buses, among other areas.

"Public places are defined as: a place where more than 10 persons are intended to congregate," a county press release read.

"The goal is not to prosecute people. We don't want to fine people. We want to encourage people to get vaccinated," Day told the press Tuesday. The county exec added though that parents will be held accountable if their children violate the ban with a possible US$500 fine, or jail.

This is New York’s worst measles outbreak since the disease was declared eradicated in 2000 in the United States and follows outbreaks in 15 other states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The U.S. national public health agency says that between Jan. 1 and March 21, 2019, there have been 314 measles cases reported nationwide.

"We owe this to the residence of this great county so we never ever have to go through this again. This is an opportunity for everyone in their community to do the right thing,” said Day. Local sources say the county’s health department will provide free vaccinations Wednesday and that more are to come.

Rockland County has administered over 16,100 doses of MMR antibodies since the outbreak was detected last October. The county’s health commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert says the best way to treat the 90 percent contagious disease is by prevention.

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Of the 153 sick, about 120 hadn't received the vaccine. NY State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in February that it’s important to maintain a minimum 95 percent “herd” level of immunization against the measles and other deadly, preventable diseases. Immunization rates as low as 60 percent were found in parts of New York where measles has spread.

According to Reuters, this outbreak is mostly isolated to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Rockland County. The news agency says the outbreak began when a traveler visited Israel and returned to the New York neighborhood. The disease has spread in the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Queens where at least 181 confirmed cases of measles have been reported since October​​​​​​, says the city’s health department.

Parents within these communities have declined the MMR vaccination for their children for philosophical or religious reasons, and have also raised the concern that the MMR vaccine causes autism, New York health officials say.

Wide scale scientific studies have repeatedly shown there is no link between vaccines and autism.

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