Health & Wellness

Mandatory Vaccination Order Raises First Amendment Issues

Outbreak in New York City causes mayor to declare a public health emergency

Up until now, it's been up to parents to decide whether their children should be vaccinated or not. But in certain neighborhoods in New York City, right now it's not a choice.

New York Mayor William de Blasio has declared a public health emergency because of an outbreak of measles in a Brooklyn neighborhood, and announced the city will levy fines up to $1,000 if the their so-called "disease detectives" catch people who haven't gotten the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine:

"I urge everyone, especially those in affected areas, to get their vaccines to protect their children, families and communities." New York Mayor William de Blasio

The measles outbreak has mostly affected Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community, centered in the Williamburg neighborhood. The New York Daily News says the outbreak started when an unvaccinated child visited Israel, was exposed to measles, and brought it back to New York. The Daily News says Jewish parents reportedly held parties where an infected child would be invited to deliberately infect healthy children with the potentially deadly disease.

The city may close schools that refuse to comply.

The city has seen 285 measles cases since the outbreak began in October. Nearly all are in the Orthodox Jewish community with the vast majority (228) in Williamsburg, where there were 26 new cases in the last week. So far no one has died in the outbreak.

The city is also threatening to fine or even close Jewish religious schools and day carers that ignore the mandate and allow unvaccinated children in class. The mayor's order got mixed reaction in the Orthodox community, with some understanding the danger, but standing by their beliefs.

"It's everybody's option to do what he wants. What he decides." Aron Braver. Williamsburg resident

Even New York's governor, who supports de Blasio's order, says it raises First Amendment issues. "Do we have the right, the society, government have the right to say you must vaccinate your child because I'm afraid your child can infect my child even if you don't want it done and even if it violates your religious beliefs," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a radio talk show. "That's an issue that's going to be legally questionable."

Last month, Rockland County, NY, banned unvaccinated people from public places like schools and malls to try and stop an outbreak there. And a Pennsylvania lawmaker planned to introduce legislation to get rid of the state's religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions.

(Images & video: Mayor Bill de Blasio Facebook page )

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