Vaccine choice protest held amid Rockland measles emergency

ROCKLAND COUNTY, New York (WABC) -- Demonstrators staged a protest in Rockland County Thursday to fight for their right to choose not to vaccinate their children, following a state of emergency declaration that bars all non-vaccinated minors from public places in the wake of a measles outbreak.

They wore T-shirts that read, "My religion, my family, my choice," and "Research before vaccinating," as they gathered at the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack -- exactly the type of place a non-vaccinated person under the age of 18 would be prohibited from entering.

It was billed on social media as "Unvaccinated Civil Disobedience," with those in attendance raising various concerns about the outbreak and the state of emergency declared by Rockland County Executive Ed Day. Some called it government overreach or an example of religious persecution, as the outbreak has mostly affected the Orthodox Jewish community.

Still, the overwhelming concern was that the MMR vaccine itself is not safe.

"You're forcing on healthy people, you're mandating on healthy people something that has no liability," activist Steve Urow said. "You can't sue the manufacturer, and it is untested with a placebo, and there is a long list of serious side effects."

Day dismissed their beliefs, issuing a statement that read, "They merely reaffirm that more work must be done to educate those who have been misled by junk science and misinformation."

Health officials say there are currently 156 confirmed reported cases of measles in the county dating back to October. There have been no fatalities, but officials say the state of emergency is necessary to contain the outbreak.

"As this outbreak has continued, our inspectors have begun to meet resistance from those they are trying to protect," Day said. "They have been hung up on or told not to call again. They've been told, 'We're not discussing this, do not come back' when visiting the homes of infected individuals as part of their investigations. This type of response is unacceptable and irresponsible. It endangers the health and well-being of others and displays a shocking lack of responsibility and concern for others in our community."

Officials said law enforcement will not be patrolling the streets or asking for vaccination records, but if someone is found in violation of the declaration, their case will be referred to the district attorney's office.

Parents will also be held accountable for their children if they are found in violation of the state of emergency, and could face fines and possible jail time.

Officials say there are no religious exemptions, and that they have been working with area rabbis who have been encouraging their members to get vaccinated.

Free MMR vaccines are available by calling:

--The Rockland County Department of Health at 845-364-2497 or 845-364-2520 to schedule an appointment to get a free MMR vaccine at the Pomona health complex.
--The Rockland County Department of Health Spring Valley Family Planning Clinic is also providing MMR vaccines, by appointment to Family Planning patients. Family Planning Clinic patients can call 845-364-2531 to schedule an appointment.

In addition, MMR vaccines are available at local health care providers or by calling a local federally qualified health center.

"We must not allow this outbreak to continue indefinitely," Day said. "We will not sit idly by while children in our community are at risk. This is a public health crisis, and it is time to sound the alarm, to ensure that everyone takes proper action to protect themselves and their neighbors; for the health and safety of all of us in Rockland."

High-risk groups include pregnant women, children under 6 months of age, the immunocompromised or immunosuppressed, those who have not been vaccinated against the measles, and those who were born before 1957 and are immunosuppressed

RELATED: What to know about measles symptoms, vaccine and treatment

Health officials say the best way to help protect yourself and the community is to remain up-to-date with measles vaccinations, and that high community vaccination rates help protect people who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or have specific health conditions.

RELATED: Rockland County Department of Health measles outbreak Information

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