Brooklyn Boro

Anti-vaxxers sue city over mandatory measles vaccination

Lawsuit filed on behalf of Williamsburg parents

April 16, 2019 Scott Enman
The measles outbreak has spread to Sunset Park with three non-Jewish individuals, including two public school students, contracting the disease. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

An anti-vaxxer organization representing the parents of five unvaccinated children in Williamsburg filed a lawsuit against the city on Monday, asking a judge to vacate a mandate put out last week requiring mandatory measles vaccinations for residents in certain Brooklyn ZIP codes.

Robert Krakow, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Patricia Finn of Children’s Health Defense filed the litigation against the New York City Department of Health and Human Hygiene. It calls for a temporary restraining order, labeling the mandate “capricious, contrary to law” and exceeding “lawful authority.”

On April 9, New York City declared a public health emergency, ordering mandatory measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations for residents in parts of Williamsburg as the number of confirmed cases for the infection rose to 285 since Sept. 30.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said individuals and parents who ignored the order would be fined up to $1,000 and be questioned by “disease detectives.” The outbreak is primarily affecting the Orthodox Jewish community.

“Rather than using available legal mechanisms such as isolation or quarantine under Public Health Law §2100,” the lawsuit reads, “respondents have imposed not only severe criminal and civil penalties for not vaccinating but have stated that persons not vaccinated ‘shall be vaccinated against measles,’ thus introducing the specter of unjustifiable forced vaccination to Williamsburg and the City of New York.”

As part of the declaration, every unvaccinated person living in the ZIP codes 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249 — regardless of whether they have been exposed to the infection — are required to get vaccinated to stymie the outbreak.

“Our goal is not to fine people or shut down schools,” de Blasio said last week. “Our goal is to vaccinate people. We have the tools available now because of this emergency order to fine — and fine very substantially. But if people just go and get vaccinated, there is no need for a fine.”

“If people ignore our order,” he added, “We will issue fines.”

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Immediately after de Blasio declared the public health emergency, Gov. Andrew Cuomo questioned the legality of the order.

The Children’s Health Defense website has produced literature discussing the “dangers” of vaccinations, claiming there are high levels of mercury and a risk of autism.

“The measles scare was classic disaster capitalism, with media outlets dutifully stoking public hysteria on editorial pages and throughout the 24-hour broadcast cycle,” the webpage reads.

“With Dr. [Paul] Offit leading the charge, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], drug makers, and industry-funded front groups parlayed a garden-variety annual measles outbreak into a national tidal wave of state legislation to ban religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions.”

But Dr. Alan Kadish, a physician and president of the Touro College & University System, the largest institution of higher education under Jewish auspices in the U.S., says the website’s claims are absolutely false.

“The CDC has studied mercury in vaccines extensively,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “There is no credible evidence of harm in the current vaccines.”

The Children’s Health Defense also claims that the measles vaccines cause autism in children.

“The national media frenzy over 159 measles cases left little room for attention to the autism cataclysm which has debilitated 1 million American children since the pandemic began in 1989, with 27,000 new cases annually,” the organization writes.

“In defiance of hard science, and common sense, CDC and Offit have launched a denial campaign to gull reporters into believing the autism plague is an illusion created by better diagnosis,” the webpage adds.

But Kadish firmly said that those claims are erroneous as well.

“The myth that measles vaccines are associated with autism has been thoroughly debunked by scientific research,” he said. “Measles is far more dangerous than many parents understand and has the potential to be fatal.”

“We in the Jewish community must unite to unmask this hoax once and for all,” Kadish added. “Not vaccinating children is reckless and potentially deadly. There is no justification medically, socially or religiously for not vaccinating.”

De Blasio, appearing on Inside City Hall on Monday, said that the city is aware of the anti-vaxxer group seeking to undermine the city’s public health emergency.

“There is a small, I think very — angry if you will — loud, anti-vaxxer group that keeps trying to convince parents not to have their kids vaccinated,” de Blasio said. “The anti-vaxxer movement grew in recent years, but it’s not based on science — and this is the danger we now see,” he added.

The lawsuit came on the same day that the city shut down the United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg for refusing to hand over records showing whether it was excluding staff and students with measles.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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