Measles outbreak: Parents file lawsuit, New York City shuts down school

WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn (WABC) -- A group of parents have filed a lawsuit against New York City amid the current measles outbreak, while health department officials announced they had closed a child care program for failing to provide access to medical records.

The parents, who live within the Brooklyn zip codes covered by Mayor Bill de Blasio's public health emergency declaration, are seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the mandatory vaccinations from taking effect.

The lawsuit against the New York City Department of Health called the emergency order "arbitrary and capricious," and the measures it necessitates "drastic."

The order demands all persons over 6 months who live, work or attend school within the specified zip codes of Williamsburg be vaccinated.

The parents who are suing argued that "there is insufficient evidence of a measles epidemic or dangerous outbreak to justify" forced vaccinations, and they accused the city of failing to take the least restrictive measures to end the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health announced that it has closed the United Talmudical Academy, located at 75 Ross Street in Williamsburg, for "repeatedly failing to provide access to medical and attendance records in violation of an Order of the Health Commissioner."

The order requires child care programs to exclude non-vaccinated students and staff and to maintain medical and attendance records on site and provide health officials with immediate access.

Officials say the academy failed to provide access to those records, making it impossible for them to determine if if the school has been excluding children and staff.

Health officials say they will monitor the school to ensure it is following the closure order, and the center will not be allowed to reopen until its staff has submitted a corrective action plan approved by the department.

"These outbreaks should not be happening," said Deputy Mayor Dr. Herminia Palacio. "We should not have measles outbreaks in the United States. Period, full stop."

In declaring a public health emergency, de Blasio called the measles "a very serious situation" and noted the "danger of this disease and how highly contagious it is."

The affected zip codes are heavily populated with Orthodox Jews, and the mayor sought to get everyone vaccinated before people travel for the Passover, which begins Friday.

"To make sure it is a good holiday, we have to ensure that people are protected," de Blasio said.

Under the order, members of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check the vaccination records of any person who may have been in contact with infected patients. The city can't legally physically force someone to get a vaccination, but those who have not received the MMR vaccine or do not have evidence of immunity may be given a violation and could be fined $1,000.

The order does raise questions about the legality of mandating vaccines, and New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman issued the following statement:

"Public health law authorizes the city to take action to address public health emergencies through containment and isolation of affected people. The city's order provides that people will be vaccinated without their consent, an extreme measure which is not provided for in the law and raises civil liberties concerns about forced medical treatment. In addressing this public health crisis, the government is required to pursue the least restrictive means possible to balance individual autonomy with the public health risk. In this case, measures such as a quarantine or penalties for non-vaccination may be permissible, but forced vaccination is not."

There have been 329 cases since the outbreak began last October, though it is unclear how many cases are current. There have been no fatalities and only three measles-related deaths in the past two decades, but health officials say there have been complications in the current outbreak, including 25 hospitalizations.

Additionally, 23 yeshivas and day care programs have received Notice of Violations for not following the school exclusion order. The United Talmudical Academy is the first program to be closed.

For more information on the MMR vaccine, call 311 or CLICK HERE.

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