Two pregnant women have been sickened with measles and twelve people who have violated the city’s mandatory vaccination rule face $1,000 fines, as the city’s measles outbreak continues, health officials said Wednesday.
The total number of measles cases has now climbed to 390 dating back to October, with an additional 31 cases in the last week. Overall, 29 people have been hospitalized, six of whom needed intensive care. No deaths have been associated with the outbreak so far.
Contracting measles while pregnant can be extremely dangerous for the fetus and can result in birth defects including deafness or blindness, intellectual disabilities, or heart problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“We urgently repeat our plea to every New Yorker, especially those in the affected areas—unless you have a medical condition that prohibits you from doing so, please get vaccinated,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. The Health Department is now urging pregnant women in Williamsburg and Borough Park to get screened for measles immunity.
The city’s ongoing order requires residents in four Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant zip codes to get the measles vaccine or face fines. Around 1,000 children have been vaccinated since the emergency was declared on April 9th, though an estimated 14 percent—more than 3,000 kids, aged one to five—were still not vaccinated as of April 14th.
Rabbi Simcha Scholar, the head of Chai Lifeline, a nonprofit that provides support to Orthodox Jewish families with children who have cancer and other severe health conditions, said it’s been a trying time for parents he works with, for whom a measles exposure could mean their child dies.
“They’re very worried, rightfully so; they refrain from going any place public,” he said. “It’s a very difficult, isolated time. These people are suffering greatly and their anxiety levels are at a very high level.”
Over the course of the outbreak, eight people caught the virus abroad in Israel, the United Kingdom and the Ukraine, according to the Department of Health, and brought it back to New York City, spreading it to others. All but seven people who got sick, according to city officials, have identified as Orthodox Jewish.
With Passover festivities in full swing, some community leaders have called on unvaccinated children to stay home from synagogues. Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt with the Rabbinical Alliance of America recommended this for his Long Island synagogue, and his advice was shared with religious leaders.
“Please get your children vaccinated,” he said. “If your children aren’t vaccinated they pose a risk to other children, so please don’t bring them to temple.”
Across New York State, there have been an additional 231 measles infections, according to the State’s Health Department, including 199 cases in Rockland County, 20 in Orange County, 10 in Westchester County and 2 in Sullivan County. The outbreak has largely impacted the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, including in Michigan where there have now been 43 cases, tracked back to a traveler who caught the measles in Brooklyn and spread it to others there.
Nationwide there have been 626 measles cases, about 64 percent of which have occurred in New York State, the second largest number since measles was declared eradicated in 2000.
Gwynne Hogan is an associate producer at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @GwynneFitz.