Six measles outbreaks have spread throughout various parts of the U.S. in 2019 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raising alarm bells among health officials and the public. In fact, the concern is so great in Rockland County, New York, that health officials went so far as to ban 42 students from attending school that hadn't been vaccinated for the virus (regardless of whether or not they had religious or medical exemptions), reports The New York Times.
It was a move that angered the children's parents, who took their case to court after the ban was imposed in December. But this week, U.S. District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti denied their request to have the students return to school, ruling that "the plaintiffs have not demonstrated that public interest weighs in favor of granting an injunction."
The children at the center of the lawsuit attended Green Meadow Waldorf School, a private school offering K–12 educational programs. Green Meadow "follows a teaching philosophy focused on nondenominational spiritual development," similar to other Waldorf schools. And although no confirmed cases of measles have yet been reported there, Rockland County has seen a severe spike in cases since October 2018, with 146 confirmed to date.
The New York Times reports that the majority of these cases have been found in patients 18 or younger, and many have been members of the Orthodox Jewish community, where vaccination rates are notably lower than average.
All 42 students, who have been unable to return to school for more than three months, did receive religious exemptions for the vaccinations, the parents' lawyer Michael Sussman says, though they are not of the Orthodox Jewish faith. The parents behind the lawsuit reportedly left the courthouse this week feeling both defeated and outraged.
But as Rockland County Attorney Thomas Humbach said in a statement shared with The Journal News, public safety is of prime importance.
“We have had success, but this case is not over," Humbach said. "While no one enjoys the fact that these kids are out of school, these orders have worked; they have helped prevent the measles outbreak from spreading to this school population."
As for when the children can return to Green Meadow, a spokesperson for the school says that depends on a few factors.
“We’re ready to welcome back our excluded students as soon as it’s legally possible,” Vicki Larson told The New York Times, adding that the school has no official stance on vaccinations. In fact, Larson explained that Green Meadow is merely complying with New York State law and following the county’s exclusion order while working with the Rockland County Health Department.
In order to return to school, Larson said students have to either prove immunity to measles or receipt of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination. But until then, they have to stay home.
The ruling comes just days after a new study confirmed (yet again) that vaccines don't cause autism, which has long been the diatribe of anti-vaxxers. Researchers behind the large-scale study — which involved more than 650,000 Danish children born between 1999 and 2010 — hope that its findings will finally help put an end to the belief that vaccines cause autism or other harmful health defects.
The misinformation first started swirling after Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and the developmental disorder. However, the study was later retracted and proven fraudulent after several areas of falsified data were discovered. And yet still, Wakefield's paper remains a cornerstone of the anti-vax movement.
"The idea that vaccines cause autism is still going around," confirmed study author Anders Hviid when speaking to STAT. "And the [anti-vax] movement, if anything, has perhaps only grown stronger over the last 15 years. The trend that we’re seeing is worrying.”
Just last month, an Ohio teen made headlines for getting vaccinated — in direct defiance of his anti-vaxxer parents. Ethan Lindenberger made the decision to get fully vaccinated once he turned 18 and could legally make the decision himself, though as he wrote in a Reddit post, "God knows how I'm still alive."
According to Lindenberger, his parents think that vaccines are "some kind of government scheme" and believe vaccines cause not only autism but brain damage. Although his two older siblings received some vaccinations, he and his younger four siblings did not, once his mother learned she could opt out of them citing religious exemptions.
It wasn't until he did his own research that the teen began to question what he'd been told. “When I started looking into it myself, it became very apparent that there was a lot more evidence in defense of vaccinations, in their favor,” Lindenberger later told NPR.
In the meantime, health officials continue to warn about the severity of the outbreaks, as well as the importance of vaccinating children early.
The recent rash of outbreaks — which, in addition to New York, include Washington, Texas, Illinois and California — have left health advocates scrambling to inform the public of the great risks now at play.
“What keeps me up at night is eventually having a child die from this completely preventable situation,” Dr. Alan Melnick, a public health director in Clark County, Washington, told the Associated Press. “It’s still out there, even though it’s been debunked, that the measles vaccine results in autism. That’s nonsense.”
Before the MMR vaccine was developed, an estimated 400 to 500 U.S. lives were lost each year from measles and some 50,000 people were hospitalized. AP also reports that another 4,000 people developed brain swelling as a result of the virus, which can cause deafness.
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.