Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot (right) at a press conference in April at the height of the measles outbreak. NYC MAYOR’S OFFICE FLICKR
New York City’s biggest measles outbreak in nearly 30 years, which predominantly sickened ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents of Williamsburg and Borough Park, has ended.
According to Health Department officials, 42 days, or two consecutive incubation periods for the highly contagious virus have passed, allowing the city to declare itself measles-free. The last recorded infection was in mid-July. An emergency order in place since April that required measles vaccination for all people who lived, worked or attended school in four Brooklyn zip codes has been lifted.
“There may no longer be local transmission of measles in New York City, but the threat remains given other outbreaks in the U.S. and around the world,” Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Our best defense against renewed transmission is having a well-immunized city.”
Since the outbreak began in early October, 654 New York City residents got sick, 73 percent of whom were unvaccinated children. Fifty-two people were hospitalized and 16 of those people were admitted to intensive care units, according to the Health Department.
“The response to this outbreak has been nothing short of epic,” Barbot said, adding that 547 health department employees worked more than 1,000 hours. In total the response efforts cost the city more than $6 million.
Efforts to quash the outbreak were met by pushback from anti-vaccine activists at every turn, she said.
“We faced sustained resistance from anti-vaccination forces who continued to hold rallies and scare parents,” Barbot said. “These campaigns of fear and lies put New Yorkers at risk. We had to do more than the anti-vaxxers.”
While no one died in New York City’s outbreak, an Israeli flight attendant who caught the virus while traveling from New York to Tel Aviv died from complications in mid-August, according to Times of Israel. All those hospitalized have recovered, though some severe, long-term complications of measles can occur months and even years later, officials said.
The height of the outbreak occurred in April, with nearly 200 cases. Those numbers began to decline in the following months, after the city declared a public health emergency. Immunization rates for children in affected neighborhoods jumped in that time, from 88 percent before the outbreak to now nearly 99 percent in Borough Park and from 67 percent to 95 percent in Williamsburg, officials said.
As part of the city’s emergency order, people who refused vaccination for themselves or their children could be fined $1,000. The city doled a total 232 of those summonses to parents for failing to get their children vaccinated, and about 29 have had to pay fines after an administrative hearing. Some of the cases are still pending and another 159 were canceled after the family either got their child vaccinated or showed proof of measles immunity from a blood test.
In the years leading up to this most recent outbreak, ultra-Orthodox areas saw a decrease in immunization rates, and a spike in religious exemptions, Gothamist and WNYC reported. The trend was largely fueled by misinformation about the supposed dangers of vaccines, spread by a handful of anti-vaccination activists within the Orthodox community who had ties to the national, secular anti-vaccine movement, and propagated their ideas with glossy hand-delivered pamphlets, robocalls, hotlines for fearful moms and massive symposiums with hundreds of attendees.
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