The well-publicized measles outbreak in the United States has hit New York City intensely. People who are unvaccinated, either out of anti-vaxxer sentiment or, more frequently, lack of understanding of the safety and importance of vaccinations because of the prevalence of anti-vaxxer sentiment, have contributed to hundreds of cases of the disease over only a few months. Last week, New York City officials ordered mandatory vaccinations in four areas of Brooklyn. Officials hope they can shut down this outbreak by targeting the predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities hit hardest by this outbreak.
It is important to note here that officials and others say that there is no religious doctrine underlying the low vaccination rates in these communities. Instead, the amount of contact ultra-Orthodox communities have with Israel, which has also had measles outbreaks, has combined with what NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot called “a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods. They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science” to unleash a very scary health problem. The outbreak itself has also revved up the contentious conversation between people that read and understand science and people that are both terrified of their government and educated just enough to believe they understand science and medicine more than scientists and medical professionals do.
Website Ars Technica reports that five women have filed a lawsuit saying that city officials have overstepped their bounds, arguing that the outbreak is not serious enough to warrant this response. However, while one can definitely argue about the merits of a case against the government requiring people to get medical injections, the lawsuit also alleges that “the MMR vaccine has significant safety concerns.” That is false. In fact, it is the fundamental and erroneous flaw in anti-vaxxer ideology.
The mandatory vaccination decisions have come after months of declarations of states of emergency in New York and other states. This is not the first lawsuit filed against official actions to stop the disease’s spread. After Rockland County, New York, officials ordered unvaccinated children be kept out of school, they were hit with an anti-vaxxer lawsuit from parents who want to send their unvaccinated children back to schools.
Measles in a country with the capacity to get people vaccinations and medicine is considerably more manageable than it is in places such as, for example, Madagascar, where 1,200 have already died and over a 115,000 have been diagnosed with the disease. And yet, even in our well-developed country, with all of our medicine and technology, we have hundreds of cases, with many more still predicted to be on the way.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials have said that all vaccinations will be covered, either by individual insurance or through subsidies from the city.