New York City Has Issued 123 Summonses to People Defying Measles Vaccine Order – Wall Street Journal

The Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg has seen one of the worst outbreaks of measles in recent years. Above, a health clinic in the Brooklyn borough. Photo: Jackson Krule for The Wall Street Journal

Amid the worst measles outbreak in more than two decades, New York City health officials have issued 123 civil summonses to people found to be noncompliant with an April emergency order requiring unvaccinated people in parts of Brooklyn to get the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.

Yet, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene hasn’t collected fines on any of the summonses.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which is responsible for handling cases brought by city agencies, said only a handful of the 123 summonses have been filed since mid-April, days after the emergency order was made on April 9.

Those who receive a summons are allowed multiple opportunities to attend a hearing to dispute a summons. If the summons is upheld at a hearing, however, the penalty is $1,000. Not appearing at a hearing or ignoring a summons results in a $2,000 fine. Only two hearings have been held so far. Both happened on Thursday morning, and respondents didn’t appear at the hearing, said the spokeswoman for OATH.

A spokesman for the city’s health department said that it takes several weeks to process summonses and file them to OATH. Summons details aren’t being made public, which is atypical for the summons process. The spokeswoman for OATH said that the city’s Law Department instructed OATH not to post the summonses because they involve personal health information.

Related Video

As the U.S. battles the largest measles outbreak in decades, big tech companies like Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp are trying to tamp down the spread of misinformation about vaccines. WSJ’s Spencer Macnaughton explains. Photo Composite: Adele Morgan/The Wall Street Journal

At an unrelated press conference on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that when the city is issuing the violation for noncompliance with the mandatory vaccination order, “we want to fix the problem first.”

“If someone goes and gets vaccinated, they may not end up paying that fine,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said. “Some people have paid the fine, but the real goal is to address this crisis and turn it around.”

Summonses are a common enforcement tool used by the health department and other city agencies. From April 1, 2019 to May 29, 2019, the health department issued thousands of tickets for violations of the health code, according to public records.

Summonses for noncompliance with the emergency order to vaccinate were delivered to some homes by a city sheriff, according to people who received them and a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Finance. When the emergency order was announced in April, Mr. de Blasio said the fine of $1,000 “gets people’s attention, so I think this is going to have a very big impact.”

In addition, around 30 schools received violations for noncompliance of health-department policies. A second spokesman for the health department couldn’t immediately say which fines had been paid.

New York City Councilman Mark Levine, chairman of the council’s committee on health, said the point of the order was to incentivize people to vaccinate children. As a result, he said, thousands more people have received the MMR vaccine.

However, said Mr. Levine, “it is protocol that this enforcement have teeth and that people understand how serious this is. Those that are refusing to vaccinate their kids are not only putting their own children at risk but other people’s children at risk,” particularly those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.

On Wednesday, the health department said 550 people have been diagnosed with measles since October 2018, up from the case count of 535 on May 24.

The number of measles cases in the U.S. this year has broken a new record, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

Six of the newly reported cases, which date back to March, are for people who live in Staten Island who were seen by a health-care provider after their illnesses resolved. That group was exposed to measles in nearby Rockland County, N.Y., where there is another large outbreak of measles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Two other people, one in Staten Island and another in Manhattan, contracted measles from an exposure in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where there are now 12 confirmed cases, according to the health department.

The majority of confirmed cases remain in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and clustered in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community there.

It was in this community where health officials hoped to stem the outbreak with the use of a mandatory vaccine order. Adults and children ages 6 months and older who live, work or attend school in four Williamsburg ZIP Codes were required by the order to get a MMR vaccine. Those who didn’t comply with the order—or prove immunity to measles—could get a summons.

The rate of vaccination has gone up in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park, another neighborhood where there has been ongoing measles transmission, including three new cases since May 24, according to the health department.

Between October 1, 2018, and May 23, 2019, more than 25,000 doses of the MMR vaccine have been given to children 18 years and younger in those two neighborhoods, nearly double the doses given during the same period a year before, according to the health department.

Earlier this month, the city’s health commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in testimony before a committee of the New York City Council that her department has spent $2.3 million to fight the ongoing measles outbreak, with nearly 400 employees mobilized to do so.

Write to Melanie Grayce West at melanie.west@wsj.com