A New York judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought against the city’s Department of Health by five parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
The dismissal shores up an emergency order declaring the city’s measles outbreak a public health emergency. In addition to mandating the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine for children in zip codes affected by the crisis, it threatened parents with fines of up to $1,000.
There have been 329 confirmed cases of the viral illness, mostly among observant Jews in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“The unvarnished truth is that these diagnoses represent the most significant spike in incidences of measles in the United States in many years and that the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn is at its epicenter,” Kings County Supreme Court justice Lawrence Knipel wrote.
Knipel debunked the parents’ arguments, concluding that their medical objections to vaccines ran counter to scientific evidence; their religious objections weren’t supported by doctrine, and were only relevant to school admissions; and their moral objections, such as their insistence on informed consent for vaccines, were misplaced.
“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire,” he wrote. “Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion.”
Jay Begun, founder of Kindercare Pediatrics in Williamsburg and an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai, said the dismissal was a victory for the community.
“Now more people will be encouraged to immunize their children, and it will create a safer environment for everyone,” he said. “This proves that the greater good trumps the marginal opinions of a small segment of the population.”
But, he added, when it comes to enforcing the order, “the less punitive the better and the more educational the better.”
One Hasidic father, who asked that his name not be shared in order to protect his privacy, felt that the dismissal was a step toward safety for his community.
“It is still scary to go out with the kids in Williamsburg, but hopefully this will help turn around the situation,” he said.
Robert Krakow, the parents’ attorney and a frequent representative of parents who claim their children were injured by vaccines, said he wasn’t particularly surprised by the judge’s decision.
Krakow claimed that a new version of the order presented during the hearing said the city could fine parents per day, as opposed to only once, for refusing to vaccinate their children.
“Wouldn’t you expect, when the city handed over the order and said the criminal provisions are removed, that they would also highlight any significant changes?” he said. “I didn’t hear them say anything about fines per day. Let’s just say we’re investigating it.”
The decision came on the same day that the Health Department announced it had issued summonses to three parents for not vaccinating their children. The department also shut down four yeshivas for not complying with its order that unvaccinated students be forbidden from attending. A daycare that was shut down earlier this week, United Talmudical Academy, reopened today under close supervision by the Health Department.