An official in Rockland County, New York issued an emergency declaration banning unvaccinated children from entering public spaces.
County executive Ed Day‘s declaration — a kind that has rarely been seen in the U.S. — comes in response to an outbreak of measles that has developed in the community full of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
“We must not allow this outbreak to continue indefinitely or worsen again,” Mr. Day said. “We will not sit idly by while children in our community are at risk.”
Rockland County, with a population of more than 300,000, has had 153 confirmed cases of measles since October. Of those, 48 have occurred in 2019.
Because of the scope of the outbreak and its persistence, some public health experts said they thought the county’s action made sense.
Fewer than 75% of children in the community are vaccinated — it’s less than 60% at some schools and day cares in the county — creating a problem for the herd immunity necessary to stop a virus from spreading. That’s why banning the kids from public schools isn’t enough. They shouldn’t be able to go out anywhere. They’re literally putting public health at risk, especially for people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons.
The emergency declaration will last one month. While county officials say they won’t go around asking kids for proof of vaccination, they will fine parents with up to six months in jail or $500 or both if it’s discovered that their unvaccinated kids went out to those public spaces.
There is a concern that imposing this restriction could violate the civil liberties of the community:
Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said he found Rockland County’s emergency order deeply problematic.
“This is virtually imprisonment of a child, and certainly significantly restricting the child’s liberty,” Mr. Gostin said.
When the alternative puts everyone in harm’s way, though, a broad emergency declaration could pass legal muster. Hopefully it’ll put pressure on parents who can get their kids vaccinated to take some responsibility and finally get it done.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)