Measles outbreak: A state of emergency?

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed read

What’s happening: The number of measles cases in the United States is on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there have been 387 reported cases from January through March this year — surpassing the total number of cases for all of 2018.

There have been two public emergencies declared in New York to control local measles outbreaks – each involving extreme measures that could serve as blueprints for other states battling a resurgence of the disease.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section after a measles outbreak that has largely affected the borough’s Orthodox Jewish community. Unvaccinated people in designated ZIP codes who may have been exposed will be required to get the vaccine and could face fines of up to $1,000 if they do not comply.

De Blasio’s decision comes on the heels an “extremely unusual” measure employed in New York’s Rockland County in its nearly six-month battle to stem a local measles outbreak. Community leaders issued a ban to bar anyone under 18 who has not been vaccinated from entering public places, including shopping centers, restaurants, schools and places of worship.

Why it’s stirring debate: Rockland County’s actions are viewed as drastic, but officials are defending their decision. “People simply understand now that we are serious about this,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day. Bringing an unvaccinated child into a public place will now be a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

The case hits on issues that are deeply personal: religion, parenting, public safety and government intervention. Many have spoken out about the causes for the measles spike, the debate over vaccinations, and the role of government and schools in addressing the outbreak.

What’s next: Rockland County said that more than 500 new vaccinations were done in the days after its emergency declaration and ban. The timing was meant to coincide with family gatherings during the upcoming holidays of Passover and Easter.

Around the country, other communities are grappling with similar circumstances. Vaccinations are usually required for children to attend school, but 47 states allow exemptions based on religious, moral or personal grounds. Officials in a Washington state’s Clark County — another measles outbreak hot spot and area with lower vaccination rates — have declared a public health emergency. In Kentucky, a judge upheld a high school’s ban on a student who refused to get a chickenpox vaccine, affirming the health department’s authority to implement rules to prevent spread of contagious diseases. States are also considering a variety of bills to combat the issue.


Rockland County did the right thing with ban.

“Rockland County Executive Ed Day was right to ban unvaccinated minors from all public gathering places. He and public health officials have been right to undertake a mass vaccination campaign, which has covered some 17,000 people since the outbreak began. There and in New York City, unvaccinated students have rightly been sent home. … Parents are free to subject their progeny to any number of rituals, or opt out of those of a secular society. They are free to homeschool their children. What they are not allowed to do is put other boys and girls in danger.” — Editorial board, New York Daily News

N.Y. county’s ban is necessary – and legal.

“The ban is highly unusual, but as an emergency measure to protect both the public and the children affected by it, it is legal and ethical. It is also wise. … The ban fits within principles of public health law and ethics. It limits personal autonomy — but it limits it in the context of a clear threat, and after previous lesser measures were used. … It is not discriminatory; it applies to all unvaccinated minors, regardless of religion or ethnicity.” — Dorit Reiss, CNN

Too many vaccines are hurting us.

“Our nation is in the midst of a vaccine epidemic. Currently the CDC recommends that American children get 69 doses of 16 vaccines between birth and age 18. … As a possible result, our kids are the sickest on the planet. Children in the U.S. suffer a higher rate of chronic disease (cancer, diabetes, asthma, allergies, autism, depression, behavioral issues) than those of any other nation. … Many parents, having done their homework, conclude that vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they purport to protect against. … Drug companies are leading the effort to eliminate state vaccine exemption laws. Legislatures across the U.S. are beset with bills to deny parents this important choice for their children’s health. And yet, in a democracy, we choose which medicines to take; in a tyranny that choice is made for us. — Ron Marsh, Newport Daily News

Schools should not allow unvaccinated children to attend.

“The number of unvaccinated children in Arizona is rising, fueled in part by junk science spread over the internet and special interest groups proclaiming infringement of personal or religious freedoms. There is no infringement. People can believe what they believe and choose not [to] have their children immunized. But we don’t have to let those kids in our schools. Besides, I’d guess those parents would change their tune in an instant if one of those dangerous diseases made a comeback. We shouldn’t wait for anything like that to happen. Keep it simple. No vaccine. No school. Period. Except home school. And we should do it now. It’s the best way to immunize the many from the selfishness of the few.” — EJ Montini, Arizona Republic

Unvaccinated children are coming of age — and speaking up.

“Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, said his mother’s ‘love, affection and care is apparent,’ but that she was steeped in online conspiracies that make him and his siblings vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases like the ongoing measles outbreaks. ‘I grew up under my mother’s beliefs that vaccines are dangerous,’ Lindenberger told a Senate health committee. He’d show her scientific studies but said she instead turned to illegitimate sources that ‘instill fear into the public.'” — Associated Press

Doctor: Teens who want vaccines shouldn’t need parental consent.

“A teen who understands the ramifications of illnesses, especially those that are preventable, can be considered a “mature minor.” … We entitle teenagers to self-worth and a right to be autonomous in their medical decisions as long as the decisions do not lead to personal harm. Teenagers can be mature minors if they understand the consequences, risks and benefits of their decisions. In my opinion, they need no parental consent.” — David Beyda, MD, USA Today

It’s not about parenting, it’s about protection.

“The choice to vaccinate your children and whether you choose to or not doesn’t make you a bad parent. Both sides are guilty of accusing the other as such, and it’s unfortunate. Bottom line, parents on both sides of the debate are just looking to protect their children. Unfortunately, in all this, our children are becoming unprotected. … My best advice if you are vaccine wary? Talk to some real doctors about your concerns and stay off the Internet. Look past the propaganda and realize vaccines aren’t the enemy; vaccine-preventable disease is the enemy — one we have the ability to eliminate if we all decide it’s worth it.” — Taryn Chapman, Fox News

Read more 360s

Electoral College: Keep, ditch or overhaul?
College cheating scandal: Can system be fixed?
Should the U.S. give reparations for slavery?