New York City declared a public emergency April 9, 2019, amid a measles outbreak in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Parents of New York City children who have not been vaccinated against measles have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt an emergency order requiring vaccinations.
The lawsuit stems from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declaring a public health emergency April 9 for parts of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section after a measles outbreak, mostly affecting the Orthodox Jewish community.
Unvaccinated people living in designated ZIP codes who may have been exposed to measles will be required to receive the vaccine to protect others from the outbreak, USA TODAY Network reported.
Measles is highly contagious, but the vaccination is considered 97% effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Members of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check the vaccination records of people who may have been in contact with infected patients. Those who have not received the vaccine or do not have evidence of immunity may be given a violation and could be fined $1,000, the mayor said.
The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Kings County, accused the city of failing to use the least restrictive means to control measles yet balance the rights to individual autonomy, informed consent and free exercise of religion.
Further, the lawsuit noted city officials took “these dramatic steps without a blueprint for implementation, itself suggesting that a true public health emergency does not exist.”
In addition, the lawsuit contends the emergency orders unnecessarily override the parents and their children’s religious practices and the children’s lawful exemptions from vaccination to attend school, which they have obtained in full compliance with public-health law.
Manhattan-based attorney Robert Krakow is representing the parents, who are identified in court documents by initials. Other attorneys for the parents include Robert Kennedy Jr. and Patricia Finn.
The outbreak in Brooklyn began in October, but many of these new cases were confirmed in the last two months. The vast majority of cases are children under 18 – and most of these measles cases were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated people, health officials said.
The lawsuit comes as a similar case of parents suing government officials for overreacting to a measles outbreak unfolds in Rockland County, New York.
A judge recently upheld a temporary order that halts Rockland from barring children who are unvaccinated against measles from schools, places of worship and other public places.
Appellate Division Judge Jeffrey A. Cohen struck language that would have stayed the order issued by acting state Supreme Court Judge Rolf Thorsen, according to lawyers in the matter.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day instituted the emergency declaration on March 26 that barred from public places people under age 18 who lack the vaccinations. But Thorsen’s April 5 decision said 166 cases cited by the county since the measles outbreak began last October did not rise to an epidemic or constitute a disaster.
A hearing is expected to be held Thursday on the Brooklyn lawsuit, Krakow said, and a four-judge panel is expected to take up the Rockland case some time this week.
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