Apparently having their unvaccinated children barred from school since December wasn’t enough to persuade some New York area parents to get their kids inoculated against measles, mumps and rubella. So Rockland County, just north of Manhattan, has now barred those under 18 years of age and not vaccinated from being in public places. And that’s as it should be. Public places are those where ten or more people gather, including schools, places of worship, restaurants, stores and public buses. Penalty for violating the law could be a $500 fine and a few months in the slammer.
More than 150 cases of measles have broken out in the county since October. (New York City has confirmed more than 200 cases.) It’s highly contagious. You can catch it from being in a room that an infected person has passed through two hours before. Side effects from measles can be pneumonia, encephalitis, deafness and more. While rubella is not as nasty in the beginning, exposure to a pregnant woman can mean birth defects, including developmental disabilities. Mumps can render a male sterile.
By 2000, prior to the surge of anti-vax craziness, medical authorities had declared these diseases eliminated thanks to the near universality of MMR vaccinations, at ages one year and four to six years. There’s also the MMRV injection, which includes chicken pox. How lucky we are that immunizations like these have been available since the early 1960’s.
Already in 2019, more than 300 cases have been reported in 15 states, including Washington, Texas, Illinois and California. The recent surge has been especially prominent in populations with ties to Israel, a gift from the Holy Land by religious communities there who, like those in Rockland County, are anti-vaxxers. Children, teenagers and adults, especially traveling to foreign countries, should get vaccinated. No child in any school system should be allowed to attend class without proof of vaccination.
Beyond the ultra-Orthodox of Rockland County or Brooklyn, other denominations have obtained religious exemptions from immunization regulations. If you object philosophically or your religion tells you that vaccination is interfering with God’s destiny for you, your right should be respected. But that exercise of personal freedom doesn’t give you the right, in effect, to weaponize your child by sending him or her to school and exposing my child or grandchild to potentially life-altering disease. This regulation should be extended, as in Rockland County, to other places.
Science has debunked the exaggerated dangers of vaccination, though, in the current anti-science atmosphere, facts have not succeeded in eradicating virulent pockets of anti-vaxx hysteria. Immunization is 97 percent effective, and I deeply believe that refusal to vaccinate one’s child should be treated as a form of child abuse. But, even if you don’t want to be that harsh on misguided, ill-informed parents, their refusal puts more than their own children in jeopardy.
Good for Rockland County for taking bold steps, not to be punitive but because they are necessary for public health.