District officials in Rockland County, New York today took the extraordinary step of banning untrained minors from entering public places. If vaccine-preventable diseases flare up across the country in pockets of unvaccinated people, these types of bans could become the new normal.
The ban is part of the county's efforts to stem the spread of measles, which has so far infected 153 people, mostly unvaccinated children under the age of 18. International visitors brought the virus from September 2018 to Rockland and spread the virus. Since the outbreak of the Rockland outbreak, nearly 17,000 people in the county have been vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, and unvaccinated children have been banned from local schools, according to a statement by the US Department of Health in New York.
Progress on the fight against measles proliferation has come to a halt, according to a Rockland County press conference today. "While this outbreak continues, our inspectors are finding increasing resistance from those who try to protect them," district chief Ed Day said in the briefing. Now the county is taking the more drastic step to declare a state of emergency that bans unvaccinated children from all public places as of midnight tonight.
It is not the goal to put people in jail, says Day: "We do not want that." Instead, awareness of the importance of vaccines should be raised in a district where measles has spread to the population for the last six months, especially among Orthodox Jewish communities. "We do it so that we just get attention at this point so that people understand how serious that is, what they do – and do not do," he says.
Rockland County officials have considered the danger that this ban could make it difficult for people suffering from measles to seek medical help. But they need people to work with doctors as the county tries to identify people who may have been exposed to measles. They hope the threat of consequences will either result in parents being vaccinated or at least getting people to work with public health investigators. He points to an infected person who exposed humans to a target and later stopped helping the investigators when the exposure might have occurred. "We already see the deterrent factor that people do not work with us," says Lyon. "So from our point of view, we have more tools to get them to work with our investigators."
Curbing the spread of this dangerous virus may, in the vaccine expert's opinion, require the use of these drastic measures, which we see more frequently in Rockland Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. In another outbreak, officials said that at least 18 people in Oakland County, Michigan, were infected with measles, reports WXYZ Detroit. "Extraordinary action may be needed to stem the increase in cases we've seen," says Hotez. "Otherwise they will not be hugged. It will just continue to infect large cohorts of humans.
Restriction of the movement may help prevent the spread of disease in an emergency, according to Leila Barraza, a professor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health University of Arizona. Quarantine rules can cause people who have been exposed to stay at home. Isolation laws can lead to sick people staying isolated in hospitals, for example. And other laws on distancing may also ensure that people do not gather in places like schools, workplaces or public events. "It's a way to create a distance between people so that they can not spread disease," says Barraza.
These laws have been maintained to a lesser extent in other cases. In Rockland County, when unvaccinated students were banned from schools in which less than 95 percent of the students were vaccinated, a group of parents sued the health department of the county. But in March, a federal judge had said that the school ban could stay. "It's really about protecting those people. Because if you are not vaccinated against measles, you have a good chance of dealing with measles if you are confronted with measles, "says Barraza.
Places like France and Italy have also issued school bans. However, the new ban on Rockland is different, says Barraza. "It's a new, more expansive measure than excluding unvaccinated students from schools," she says. "I think that's why it gets so much publicity." And she could see that this is the first of more similar prohibitions in the future. "I think this could definitely be a new trend as we have more unvaccinated children," she says. "If there's any evidence that this worked, I think it's likely to be tried again."
Oscar Alleyne, head of the programs and services of the National Associations of County and city health officials, hopes that the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases will not reach this point. "I would hope that this is not the new normal, because we know that we have a tool and a technology that can work, that has worked, that has saved lives." He talks about vaccines, and he and Hotez agree that they do not use it. This instrument is a consequence of spreading misinformation against vaccines. "It's the new normal in America, now it seems like measles are coming back," says Hotez. "This is a self-inflicted wound."