In a county at the epicenter of the worst measles outbreak in New York in decades, a group of parents are striving to bring their children back to school. The problem? Children are not vaccinated.
Normally, children and their families can request an exemption from compulsory vaccinations for religious reasons. But the Rockland County Health Department said it was not a normal period. In New York, more than 300 measles cases have been confirmed, including more than 150 in New York and 146 in nearby Rockland County. In Rockland, most cases were found in unvaccinated individuals under 18 years of age.
In December, the alarming outbreak forced county officials to take the drastic – and unprecedented – measure to prohibit unvaccinated children from attending certain schools where the vaccination rate was less than 95%.
A few months later, parents of more than 40 children banned from the Green Meadow Waldorf School sued the Rockland County Health Department, asking a federal judge to allow students to return to class. This week, US District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti rejected their request, saying it was not in the "public interest" to allow children to return to school.
"Although no one appreciates the fact that these children are not in school, these orders have worked," county attorney Thomas Humbach said in a statement in the local newspaper. "They helped prevent the measles outbreak from spreading to this school population."
But according to parents, the ban, which the county calls an "exclusion order," has "caused and continues to cause irreparable harm" to them and their children, according to the lawsuit.
For children, the order has disrupted their school life and their social life, says the document. In the case of parents, their life choices "intimate, protected by the Constitution". . . have been blocked. "
Green Meadow is a Waldorf private school that, like other schools in the country, promotes spiritual development. No cases of measles have been confirmed in this region, the New York Times reported.
"What Rockland County has done is remarkably irrational in every way imaginable," said Michael Sussman, the parents' attorney, at The Times.
However, officials fear that the school's proximity to the epidemic will put students at greater risk.
The county's consternation is part of national concerns about the anti-vaccination movement, punctuated by severe measles outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest, South Carolina and New York. The World Health Organization has even dubbed "vaccine hesitancy" as one of the major global threats in 2019.
In dramatic testimony at Capitol Hill last week, 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger, famous for being vaccinated against his mother's wishes, warned of the dangers of anti-vaccine misinformation, which studies show , spreads quickly via social networks.
After the appearance of Lindenberger, Facebook announced its plan against anti-vaccine propaganda and false information on its platform. Google and Amazon have taken similar actions.
States have also taken steps to ensure that minors have access to immunization. In South Carolina, Oregon and elsewhere, patients under the age of 18 are allowed to request vaccinations without permission from their parents. In New York, two lawmakers introduced a similar bill with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Adolescents and young adults often have a clearer idea of the types of health care decisions that are right for them," the New York chapter of the academy said in a statement to the & # 39; 39, Associated Press. "These young people have the right to protect diseases that can easily be prevented by vaccination."
At Green Meadow, the vaccination rate was only 33% when the December ban came into effect, Newspaper reported, citing county data. Since then, the county has announced a 56% increase, although a school spokeswoman told the Times that the share was 83% – both of which were below the prescribed threshold.
The school complies with the county health department's order, said its spokesperson, and will welcome its students upon his return legally.
In the meantime, however, children – some of whom are as young as preschoolers – simply need to wait for the epidemic to disappear. A mother, who chose to keep her unvaccinated 4-year-old child, told local media that her child was in distress.
"It's confusing," she said, "given his young age, why he's not allowed on his campus. "
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