A Brooklyn judge upheld the city Health Department’s emergency order requiring individuals in certain areas in or bordering Williamsburg to receive vaccination against measles or pay a fine.
Justice Lawrence Knipel dismissed the case in Kings County Supreme Court brought by five mothers who said the city’s actions were disproportionate to the threat posed by measles and failed to take into account “individual autonomy, informed consent and free exercise of religion.”
The city Health Department said it had confirmed 359 cases of measles through Thursday, with 294 of those diagnoses of patients in Williamsburg. The disease has hit young children in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities particularly hard.
“The unvarnished truth is that these diagnoses represent the most significant spike in incidences of measles in the United States in many years and that the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn is at its epicenter,” Knipel wrote in his decision.
The city Health Department has clarified its order to note that it will impose civil penalties for violators but won’t pursue criminal charges. Knipel wrote that because the city had conceded the order does not require forced vaccination, he would not address it in his decision.
“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire. Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion,” Knipel wrote.
Knipel did not accept arguments from the plaintiffs that the vaccine poses a greater risk than measles itself.
“These contentions are completely unsupported by studies, medical literature, law and regulation,” he wrote.
The ruling paves the way for the city to continue enforcing its order. The Health Department said Thursday that it it has issued three civil summonses to enforce its order.
“This decision will protect New Yorkers from a very dangerous infection with potentially fatal consequences. We did not take the emergency order lightly. It was a dramatic response to a serious problem,” Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said in a statement Thursday night.
Those receiving a summons must report to a hearing, where a hearing officer could fine the person $1,000. Failure to appear will cost $2,000.
In addition, four more schools and preschools will be closed for failing to comply with the order. They are located at 68–84 Harrison Ave., 241 Keap St., 590 Bedford Ave. and 720 Wythe Ave.
The Health Department said it allowed United Talmudical Academy, at 75 Ross St., to reopen Thursday after the city shut it Tuesday for failing to make students’ vaccination records available. The department will continue to monitor the school.
An Israeli flight attendant, who health officials believe received the vaccination as a child, has been in a coma with encephalitis after contracting measles, CNN reported Thursday. The 43-year-old woman works for El Al, and it is unclear whether she caught the disease in New York or Israel, or flying between the two destinations.
“We do not want to issue violations but will continue and hope that New Yorkers make the best choice for their families, their neighbors and their own health—to get vaccinated,” Barbot said.