NEW CITY, N.Y. – Rockland County Executive Ed Day cited a jump in the number of measles vaccines given in the New York county in the three days since his state of emergency was called as proof of its success in tackling the county’s measles outbreak.
“We have heard anecdotally that the declaration is having an effect,” Day said during a news conference with Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert. “We’ve heard this from doctors’ offices, pediatricians and parents.”
Day added: “Public health experts agree that this was the next logical step to deal with this outbreak.”
He called Rockland “ahead of the curve” in comparison with Brooklyn, where he said there were 31 new measles cases reported this week.
“This is not going to happen here in Rockland County,” he insisted. “The reason we took action was because the trajectory of success was starting to alter.”
On Tuesday, the county executive announced the emergency declaration would start at midnight. It bans anyone who is under 18 and not vaccinated against the highly contagious virus from public places including schools, places of worship, shopping centers and restaurants. Outdoor gathering places are not included.
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Of the total number of measles cases, 83.7 percent, or 128 people, were 18 or younger.
More than 17,400 vaccines had been given out since the outbreak began in October. Of that number, Day said almost 500 had been administered since he announced the state of emergency Tuesday.
The number of measles cases since October is up to 157, Ruppert said Friday, though there are fewer than 10 active cases. She said there are likely more cases that have not been reported and that’s a problem.
“We’ve had excellent cooperation from the community,” Ruppert said, referring to the Orthodox Jewish community around Monsey and Spring Valley where most of the measles cases have occurred. “If you have any ideas, I’m open to suggestions,” she said in response to a question about outreach.
Day said there are no religious exemptions to vaccines in the Jewish and Catholic faiths, and said medical exemptions were the only legitimate reasons for parents to not have their children vaccinated.
“We are not here to be in the way of families and their doctor, but we are here to understand that we are not going to allow measles or communicable diseases to infect the population.” he said.
The emergency order forbids schools from allowing unvaccinated students to attend based on religious exemptions. This has resulted in a range of 11 to 50 children per district missing classes in Rockland’s public schools, said Scott Salotto, communications director for Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).
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Day said he was putting the onus on schools to close any gaps in vaccination rates that may have opened over time.
“I’m asking the schools to revisit their efforts in that area to ensure that they are complying with the law,” he said. “There are sections in the law that require them to revisit the initial objections that were raised, the initial exemptions.”
Day said he expects some continued resistance from anti-vaccination quarters.
“People believe a certain way. To crack that nut is very difficult,” the county executive said.
There have been no arrests or enforcement patrols since the order went into effect.
“That’s not the purpose of what we’re doing,” Day said of potential arrests. “We’re putting the force of law behind what we’re doing.”
Ruppert touted the MMR vaccine’s safety and efficiency, and listed the serious and potentially deadly complications from measles, including dehydration, diarrhea pneumonia and encephalitis.
She said earlier this week that 10 percent of the measles cases since the outbreak began had serious medical complications, including intensive care unit visits and a pregnant woman’s premature delivery in which the baby was born with measles.
“The vaccine is safe, and we keep bringing that message forward and I think little by little we’re getting to those who certainly have been on the fence,” she said. “Those who have delayed vaccination or weren’t sure, that’s the group we’re getting to, that’s a larger group.”
The state of emergency has drawn international attention and has landed the county in the middle of social media battles over the vaccination issue.
When asked by a media outlet in Italy whether others should do a measles emergency, Day said this was tailored to Rockland’s particular circumstances.
Clinic draws few
A county-run vaccination clinic on Wednesday drew only about 30 people. But some local pediatricians saw a spike in reluctant parents who were vaccinating because of the emergency order.
On Thursday, an anti-vaccination rally publicized on social media drew a crowd of about 10 protesters to the Palisades Center in West Nyack. The protesters, most of whom were from outside Rockland, called Day’s order a government overreach.
Others said the order targets and stigmatizes the Jewish population.
Day said the protesters were “misled by junk science and misinformation.”
The ban will last until the declaration expires in 30 days or until people are vaccinated. Children with medical exemptions are not included in the ban.
Day pointed out that Rockland’s measles outbreak first began after the Jewish holidays in the fall, and wanted to get as many people immunized as possible before Passover and Easter.
Measles in New Jersey
Despite several spikes of the virus in New Jersey, health department officials there say they have no plans to follow Rockland County’s emergency order.
As of last week, New Jersey had eight confirmed measles cases so far this year, and six of those were related to an ongoing outbreak in Ocean County, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Two other cases in Bergen and Essex counties were isolated outbreaks related to international travel, health department officials said.
The stubborn outbreak peaked last year when 33 people, mostly in Ocean County and a family in Passaic County, were sickened with measles.
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