Mayor declares end to Kings County measles outbreak • Brooklyn Paper

Mayor declares end to Kings County measles outbreak

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared the end of the city’s measles outbreak on Sept. 3, which swept through Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn for almost a year.
Photo by Paul Martinka

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared Brooklyn’s measles outbreak over on Tuesday.

Hizzoner declared the end of the epidemic, which swept through Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn for the better part of a year, after no new cases were reported to officials with the city’s Health Department since mid-July and after a multi-million-dollar vaccination and education drive by the government and local religious leaders, according to de Blasio.

“Ending the measles outbreak required extensive collaboration with community organizations and Jewish leaders,” de Blasio said on Sept. 3 in a prepared statement. “They helped encourage vaccinations and achieve record immunization levels in parts of Brooklyn.”

Health honchos declared the city’s largest outbreak of the highly contagious airborne pathogen in almost three decades over after no new cases were reported in 42 days — twice the time it takes from the moment someone is exposed to the virus to when they exhibit their first symptoms, according to the Health Department.

A whopping 654 people were diagnosed with the disease since Brooklyn’s patient zero was identified in October 2018. Of those, 72 percent of cases were Williamsburg residents and 80 percent were under 18 years old.

Officials traced the borough’s outbreak to a Brooklyn resident traveling from Israel that month and one leader of an Orthodox Jewish organization said the community’s close-knit structure enabled the illness to spread rapidly.

“The Orthodox Jewish community takes health seriously. While its vaccination rates have always been high, international travel and a close-knit, family-centered structure left our community particularly vulnerable to the measles, a highly contagious disease,” said Avrohom Weinstock, the leader of Agudath Israel of America.

The Department of Health instituted an exclusion order in December 2018 barring unvaccinated children from attending schools and day cares in Williamsburg and Borough Park.

The city shut down several yeshivas in Williamsburg that allowed unvaccinated pupils to attend class, and started issuing $1,000 fines to parents who failed to vaccinate their kids after the mayor declared a public health emergency in April 2019.

Health officials administered 15,541 doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine in Williamsburg and Borough Park since the April emergency order, marking a 41 percent increase in inoculation rates year-over-year, according to the department.

The city lifted the December 2018 exclusion order, but children across the state must get vaccinated before they can return to school this Thursday, after lawmakers in Albany passed a package of bills repealing religious exemptions for vaccines on June 13.

And while the epidemic is over, city health officials will keep monitoring the situation and advocating for more vaccinations to stem future outbreaks, according to the city’s chief physician.

“There may no longer be local transmission of measles in New York City, but the threat remains given other outbreaks in the U.S. and around the world,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “Our best defense against renewed transmission is having a well immunized city.”

One city lawmaker also urged New Yorkers to fight against junk science by anti-vaxxers.

“Our fight against the science denial fueling the anti-vaccine movement continues,” said Councilman Mark Levine (D–Manhattan), the chair of the City Council’s Health Committee. “Our message is clear: we implore New Yorkers to make sure they and their children are up-to-date on vaccinations.”

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

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