US county declares emergency over measles outbreak

World Today

Health officials around the world are scrambling to stop a series of measles outbreaks. Measles cases plunged after the United Nations launched a global vaccination campaign in 2001, but some countries are unable to afford the recurring expense. 

In some developed countries, like the U.S., fears of side effects are slowing vaccinations. That’s helped fuel outbreaks that have left hundreds ill so far this year. Now, one town in New York state has declared an emergency.

CGTN’s Karina Huber has details.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the measles outbreak in Rockland County, a suburb of New York City, was started by a group of infected travelers from other countries.

Since October, the county has reported more than 150 cases of measles, largely among ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. Local officials tackled the problem with a public health campaign stressing the importance of vaccination. They also pulled close to 6,000 unvaccinated children out of school.

Almost 17,000 doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine were administered, but that didn’t stop the disease from spreading. That’s why in March, the county took the unusual step of calling for a state of emergency, banning unvaccinated children and teenagers from public places.

“Under the state of emergency all persons under the age of 18 are excluded from places of public assembly, including places to shop, restaurants, schools and places of worship, in order to prevent the spread of the measles,” said Rockland County Attorney Thomas Humbach.

Humbach said the county took the drastic step because some refused to cooperate with the vaccination campaign. Jewish leaders said anti-vaccination campaigns have found a following among some in their community.

“The anti-vaxxer movement across the country is very strong,” said Gary Siepser, with the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County. “It has found its way through social media and confused parents and confused people about the importance of vaccination.”

There has been some concern the ban will further isolate the ultra-orthodox community, but others said it was necessary.

“It’s a pretty strong measure admittedly but it’s being done to protect children, to protect the community and particularly to protect children who have underlying medical conditions whom, if they got measles, could have serious consequences,” said Daniel Salmon at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

New York is just one of 15 states currently struggling with the measles. There have been almost 400 reported cases in the first three months of this year. The states that have reported cases to the CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Salmon said those areas are keeping a close eye on Rockland County’s approach.

“If it works, I would not be terribly surprised if, in the midst of measles outbreaks elsewhere, if public health officials might not respond the same way,” Salmon said.

Roughly 73 percent of the youth in Rockland County have been vaccinated against the measles, but experts said the vaccination rate will need to top 90 percent in order to turn things around.