A New York City judge has dismissed a complaint from parents who objected to the city's emergency vaccine order meant to immediately curb a dangerous measles epidemic threatening the city's vulnerable.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued the order in early April, commanding that unvaccinated children living in several zip codes in the Brooklyn are be immediately vaccinated, in response to a sudden and alarming rise in the number of measles cases reported in the hipster-occupied borough of Manhattan.
NBC News reports that, as of Sunday, Brooklyn doctors have counted an astounding 626 cases of measles, more than the number of cases reported in the entire year 2014, when the city suffered a measles outbreak. Brooklyn officials blame the current outbreak on a rash of voluntarily unvaccinated children, kids of upper-class white residents of Brooklyn, and of a handful of Orthodox Jewish enclaves in the area.
City officials said the order, which explicitly mandates that all individuals who can receive the vaccine receive it immediately, was absolutely necessary to controlling the outbreak and rebuilding "herd immunity" in Brooklyn neighborhoods.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that any person who lives, works or resides within the 11205, 11206, 11221 and/or 11249 zip codes and who has not received the MMR vaccine within forty eight (48) hours of this Order being signed by me shall be vaccinated against measles unless such person can demonstrate immunity to the disease or document to the satisfaction of the Department that he or she should be medically exempt from this requirement.
City officials in Rockland, New York, one of the areas hardest hit, have also issued a 30-day ban on unvaccinated children going out into public.
Parents of voluntarily unvaccinated children immediately sued the state, claiming that the mandatory vaccination order was not the "least restrictive means” of controlling the outbreak, according to Jurist.org, but a Brooklyn judge issued a ruling late last Thursday confirming that Constitutional rights are not violated by orders mandating vaccines in emergency situations.
The judge also took the parents to task for claiming that the MMR vaccine is somehow ineffective, that receiving the vaccine puts a child at greater risk than contracting the measles, and that the MMR vaccine itself is responsible for the outbreak, noting that none of these assertions is supported by any scientific study or piece of medical literature. Instead, the judge noted that the current measles outbreak represents the "most significant spike in incidences of measles in the United States in many years and that the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn is at its epicenter," and that, uncontrolled, the disease will begin to spread to "remote locations."
Quick, decisive action on the part of the state to prevent unnecessary deaths, in this case, is warranted.
“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire. Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion," the judge wrote.
Newsday confirms that Constitutional experts agree: temporary, exigent public health concerns generally outweigh some Constitutional rights, at least where the need is immediate and the order is temporary and explicitly date restricted.
"There has never been a state [mandatory vaccination] law struck down because of the freedom of religion aspect of the First Amendment," one law professor told the outlet. "A century of jurisprudence continues to support mandatory vaccines in a variety of contexts."
Decisions on the issue, she says, date back more than 100 years.
The Constitutionality of another measure — a bill in the New York leigslature that eliminates conscience and other non-medical exemptions to vaccination requirements — may not be as clear cut. Three states — California, West Virginia, and Mississippi have eliminated all non-medical vaccination exemptions — but those laws have yet to be challenged in any meaningful way.