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Measles Outbreak: Tensions Rise as New York City Steps Up Response



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Vaccine skeptics were planning a lawsuit against New York City. A Hasidic woman was heckled when she boarded a public bus. Family members were avoiding weddings for fear of encountering unvaccinated relatives.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday that he was in a state of emergency in order to require measles vaccinations, he said the move was necessary to curtail the massive outbreak of measles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. But as health officials plunged into Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood to enforce the mandate, tensions only escalated.

Mr De Blasio's efforts seemed to mobilize the already well-organized network of vaccine skeptics. Their latest tactic: circulating court affidavits for community members to sign, so they can oppose the mandatory vaccinations ahead of a planned lawsuit.

"I am a religious Jew, whose religious convictions are blatantly violated by the vaccine Dictates, which are a clear violation of the Nuremberg Code, which forbids medical procedures for anyone without their fully informed consent," the form says .

It continues: "Childhood diseases, like measles and chickenpox, unlike maspox and ebola, are not legitimate public health threats, and do not justify an emergency declaration."

On Tuesday, Mr. de Blasio said unvaccinated residents in certain ZIP codes in Brooklyn must receive a measles vaccination or face a $ 1,000 fine. The health department said that the next day, 20 city health inspectors began auditing vaccination records at Yeshivas, and 15 disease detectives began interviewing those who were potentially exposed to the highly contagious virus.

But the many who support the vaccines say they worry that the city is missing the mark by not addressing the crucial issue: the misinformation of flooding hasidic communities that tells them to be wary of vaccines. Literature and hotlines spread debunked theories about immunizations, falsely warning that they cause autism and lead to other health problems.

Blima Marcus, an ultra-Orthodox nurse practitioner at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said she understood the city's actions, but she raised concerns about whether they would be effective . In the last week alone, 60 new cases of measles were confirmed in New York City, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the suburban Westchester County reported its first eight cases.

"It's a public health problem," Ms. Marcus said. "But ultimately, I do not think that it will help in the long term, because it does not get to the root of the problem, which is widespread misinformation and no corresponding education."

Ms. Marcus said she and the other Hasidic health professionals put the final touches on a pro-vaccination magazine and created a hotline to dispel myths promulgated by the anti-vaccine movement. The magazine, which will be called Parents Informed and Educated, or Pie, is a direct response to Peach, a 40-page publication that is a major vehicle of misinformation.

"We're seeing a lot more interest in people wanting to get involved, "Ms. Marcus said. "They're really angry at the anti-vax movement. They are ashamed. "

City officials say that countering the anti-vaccine movement is a priority, and they are holding meetings with rabbis, doctors and community members. Healthcare providers have distributed 8,000 more vaccines between October and April than they did in the same period of the previous year, officials said.

But Dr. Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, echoed Ms. Marcus's concerns, saying the city's efforts could fall short.

"Unless you begin to dismantle this anti-vaccine media empire, you're not going to have a big impact on any particular public health measure," he said.

In the aftermath of the emergency order, Jewish leaders say they fear the continued rise of antisemitism. In recent months, Hasidic neighborhoods have been the targets of a series of anti-Semitic hate crimes, and Jewish leaders reported another one on Thursday.


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