New York City threatens to close yeshivas over unvaccinated children

New York City's Health Department is threatening to fine and possibly close several Yeshivas in Brooklyn that continue to allow unvaccinated children to attend class despite previous warnings prompted by a measles outbreak.

Since last fall, nearly 300 people, mostly children, have come down with measles in New York City, with the majority centered in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn.

The outbreak began when an unvaccinated child visited Israel, where thousands of people have been sick, contracted the disease, and came back to Brooklyn. 

The health commissioner issued a mandate that yeshivas must keep unvaccinated children out of school.

"In January, one yeshiva in Williamsburg fell out of compliance with the Department's exclusion mandate, allowing unvaccinated children back into school or daycare," the Health Department said in a news release. "This single yeshiva is connected to more than 40 cases, resulting in a large increase in measles cases and the continuation of the outbreak."

Health officials have been urging New Yorkers to get their children vaccinated to stem the outbreak of measles, which is a highly contagious disease that can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, and death.

In February, the Health Department began recommending to medical providers that serve the Orthodox Jewish communities in Williamsburg and Borough Park to give an extra dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine to children between 6 months and 11 months old.

Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the health commissioner, said that New Yorkers need to know that the MMR vaccine is safe.

"This outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods. They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science," Dr. Barbot said in the statement. "We stand with the majority of people in this community who have worked hard to protect their children and those at risk."

Rockland County, New York, is also dealing with a measles outbreak in its Orthodox Jewish community. The county executive on March 26 issued an emergency order banning unvaccinated children from public spaces. But last week, a judge halted that order.