Those violating Rockland County’s new ban against unvaccinated minors in public spaces could face six months in jail or a $500 fine.
“Parents will be held accountable if they are found to be in violation of the state of emergency and the focus of this effort is on the parents of these children,” Rockland County Executive Ed Day said, according to the Journal News in White Plains. “We are urging them, once again, now with the authority of law, to get your children vaccinated.”
Day on Tuesday announced a state of emergency in Rockland County over its ongoing measles outbreak. The county, located outside New York City, also banned unvaccinated people under age 18 from public places.
The emergency expires in 30 days. Children with medical exemptions from vaccines are not included in the ban, but the new rule includes no religious exemptions, according to the Journal News.
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The order only applies to people under 18 because county officials did not want to prevent anyone from going to work, according to CNN.
Public places covered by the ban include shopping centers, restaurants, schools and places of worship. Outdoor gathering places are not included.
“We must not allow this outbreak to continue indefinitely or worsen again,” Day said, according to The New York Times. “We will not sit idly by while children in our community are at risk.”
Rockland County has been battling a severe measles outbreak since last year that now includes 153 confirmed cases. About 73 percent of children ages 1 to 18 in the county have been fully vaccinated, but herd immunity against the illness is not effective until vaccination reaches 95 percent.
Most of those infected in the outbreak have been children.
Cases have been concentrated largely in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, according to the Times. Vaccination rates in those communities tend to be lower and anti-vaccination literature has been spreading among those groups.
Some Jewish leaders are concerned about backlash over the ban, according to the Journal News.
“I’m very concerned about it because there are folks in this community, in this county, who will use this as an opportunity to be prejudiced,” said Gary Siepser, CEO of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County, according to the Journal News. “I’m very concerned at how people will be viewed and what could happen when people go into the mall or try to go into Target or wherever they want to go shopping and be out. That’s my concern.”
County officials said they will enforce the ban the same way they do other laws, according to CNN. If investigators working to identify when and where an individual was exposed to measles come across an unvaccinated person who had been in public, the case will be referred to the district attorney.
But the goal is not prosecution, said John Lyon, a spokesman for the country, according to CNN.
“We don’t want to fine people,” he said. “We want to encourage people to get vaccinated.”
Police will not be deployed to any locations proactively looking for proof of vaccinations, according to the Journal News.
The ban is necessary because of ongoing resistance to other efforts to control the outbreak, Day said, according to the Journal News.
An executive order already pulled nearly 6,000 unvaccinated kids out of school and nearly 17,000 doses of the measles vaccine were given in 26 weeks, according to the Times. A public health campaign involving community officials, doctors and rabbis emphasized the importance of vaccinations.
Day said he believed Rockland’s ban was the first of its kind in the U.S. Public health experts said they could not recall any action like it in recent years, the Times said.
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