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Measles epidemic: New York City threatens yeshivas with violations, closure if unvaccinated students are allowed to participate

WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn (WABC) – The New York Department of Health is threatening the yeshivas in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with violations and possible closures if unvaccinated students are allowed to attend classes during the current measles epidemic.

The outbreak in the Orthodox Jewish community is currently in 285 cases from the beginning of last October.

In December, the health department ordered yeshivas and child care centers to serve the Orthodox Jewish community in the Brooklyn postal codes to exclude all unvaccinated students from school or kindergarten up to when the epidemic was not declared.

Then, in January, a yeshiva in Williamsburg failed to comply with the exclusion mandate, allowing unvaccinated children to go back to school or daycare.

Officials say this single yeshiva is linked to more than 40 cases.

Since then, the health department has issued the commissioner's orders to all Williamsburg yeshivas to comply with the mandatory exclusion of unvaccinated children or to face violations subject to fines and to possible school closure.

"This is a public health crisis and can be stopped quite easily," said New York City councilor Stephen Levin.

Officials say many in Williamsburg are listening to false information about the vaccine.

"We need to make sure that there is good information out there, that it is culturally sensitive, that it is coming to the right people, to make sure it is real scientific information, so people know that this is not a risk," Levin said. "Vaccinating your children is in the interest of them and of the entire community".

Measles is a highly contagious disease and can cause pneumonia, encephalitis and, in rare cases, death. There have been no deaths in the current epidemic and only three measles-related deaths in the last two decades.

The vast majority of cases are children under 18 years of age, while there were 39 cases in adults.

In view of the Passover, the health department urges all New Yorkers, particularly those from the Orthodox Jewish community, to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to prevent a further spread of the virus.

Health officials say that people traveling to areas with large epidemics, including Israel, Europe, northern New York and other parts of the United States, must make sure that they and their children are properly vaccinated with MMR.

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