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April 18, 2019

Orthodox parents sue New York City over forced measles vaccination

April 15, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in select zip codes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on April 9, following a measles outbreak affecting the Orthodox Jewish community. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Orthodox Jewish families in Brooklyn filed suit against the city Monday morning accusing public health officials of overstepping their authority by ordering all people in Williamsburg to be vaccinated for measles as the community and the nation face a record outbreak of the potentially deadly virus.

Pedestrians walk near the Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov School in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn on April 9. New York City ordered all yeshivas in a heavily Orthodox Jewish section of Brooklyn to exclude from classes all students who aren't vaccinated against measles or face fines or possible closure.
Pedestrians walk near the Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov School in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn on April 9. New York City ordered all yeshivas in a heavily Orthodox Jewish section of Brooklyn to exclude from classes all students who aren’t vaccinated against measles or face fines or possible closure. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

The city “failed to employ the least restrictive measures to end the measles outbreak,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday morning in Brooklyn Supreme Court

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“There is insufficient evidence of a measles epidemic or dangerous outbreak to justify the respondents’ extraordinary measures, including forced vaccination.” Robert Krakow, the lawyer for the parents, argues in the suit.

There have been 285 confirmed measles cases in Brooklyn and Queens since October 2018, according to the city.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control announced a drastic uptick — 200 cases — over the same period last year.

The parents, who were only identified by their initials, say in the suit that Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, failed to try to quarantine the infected people, as she is authorized to do under the law.

The outbreak in the Orthodox Jewish community has raised some constitutional issues regarding freedom of religion, an issue also raised by the parents filing suit.

“I made my choice five years ago to follow my religious belief and not vaccinate my family,” the parent, identified by the initials, C.F. said in an affidavit. “I take full responsibility for this decision. We are healthy and do not constitute a public threat or nuisance in any way. Our religious choice must be respected as U.S. citizens. We are entitled to our civil liberties and the option to partake of the medical treatments that are consonant with our religion and to heal ourselves in a way we see fit.”

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