Facing the largest measles outbreak in 28 years, New York City has resorted to mandatory vaccination in one Brooklyn neighborhood, with $1,000 fines for noncompliance. The city had little choice. When anti-vaccination resistance raises the danger level this high, authorities must take all necessary steps to safeguard public health.
The unvaccinated include not only adults who have bought into the mythology that vaccines are unsafe, but also their children, who are too young to protect themselves from their parents’ gullibility. It is essential that those children - as well as the wider community - be protected from the extraordinarily contagious and pernicious measles virus.
The outbreak in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn illustrates how measles spreads globally among the uninoculated: Community members returning from trips to Israel brought the virus home and passed it along to other unvaccinated people, mostly children. The Israeli outbreak had been fed by other travelers, returning from infected areas in Ukraine.
The Brooklyn contagion also shows why states should not allow children to be exempt from school vaccination requirements, unless they have impaired immunity or some other legitimate medical issue. To achieve so-called herd immunity robust enough to protect those who cannot be vaccinated - including infants younger than six months - 95 percent of a community needs to have the vaccine.
Public health authorities are struggling to get people vaccinated. In Rockland County, New York, home to another outbreak, a state judge blocked an emergency declaration barring unvaccinated children from schools and other public areas. That was an unfortunate step, and one that has the potential to deepen the health crisis. As the number of measles cases nationwide keeps rising toward a 21st-century record, officials should be empowered to follow the science - and to take all necessary steps to control a cruel disease that had once been tamed.