The New York Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that a city emergency order designed to stem a measles outbreak is illegal because it includes “forced vaccination.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency earlier in the day as the number of measles cases, mainly among children in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, neared 300.
He signed an order stating that anyone in certain zip codes who has not received the MMR vaccine “shall be vaccinated against measles” unless they can prove they’ve already had the disease or should be medically exempt.
“It was time to take a more muscular approach,” the mayor said in explaining the hard-line policy for an outbreak that began in October.
But civil libertarians said de Blasio may be putting too much muscle into it.
“Public health law authorizes the city to take action to address public health emergencies through containment and isolation of affected people,” the group said in a statement.
“The City’s order provides that people will be vaccinated without their consent, an extreme measure which is not provided for in the law and raises civil liberties concerns about forced medical treatment.
“In addressing this public health crisis, the government is required to pursue the least restrictive means possible to balance individual autonomy with the public health risk. In this case, measures such as a quarantine or penalties for non-vaccination may be permissible, but forced vaccination is not.”
It was not immediately clear if anyone from Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood targeted by the order, had contacted the organization or if its lawyers were planning on taking legal action against the city.
In Rockland County, north of the city, officials imposed an emergency order last month banning any unvaccinated child from public places, but a judge has already put that on hold.
Health officials have been particularly worried about the spread of measles in Jewish communities because Passover is approaching, bringing with it large gatherings where one infected person can spread the virus to anyone who is unvaccinated.
In addition, some yeshivas have been caught flouting an earlier order banning unvaccinated students. And the city health commissioner said some parents have been throwing measles parties so their kids catch the illness, and thus become immune, eliminating the need for the vaccine.
Study after study has shown the measles vaccine is safe and effective, but some families have used religious or philosophical exemptions to avoid it—thanks, in part, to a growing anti-vaxxer movement fueled by fake and discredited science.
The New York City outbreak is one of several nationwide. There are also clusters in Oakland County, Michigan, and the Pacific Northwest. Authorities say travel to and from Israel and Ukraine, along with low vaccination rates in some areas, set the stage for the crisis.