ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The battle to contain the worst U.S. measles outbreak in 27 years has a new front: summer camp.
Vaccinations have been made mandatory this summer for campers and staff in several counties north of New York City that annually fill up with kids from the Orthodox Jewish communities that have been hit hardest by measles.
Ulster County took the extra step of mandating the measles vaccine or proof of immunity at all day camps and overnight camps, becoming the latest county in the area to issue immunization requirements. Rockland County announced a similar order this month, following mandates from Sullivan and Orange counties.
“We have to make sure our t’s are crossed and our i’s are dotted in making sure all these vaccination records are in and have been fine-combed through to make sure everything is in compliance,” said Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, of Ulster County’s Camp Emunah, which hosts many girls from a Chabad community in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights.
“In the past where we accepted religious exemptions for certain things,” said Hecht, who is getting his own blood checked for immunity, “now we cannot.”
The state of New York requires summer camps to keep immunization records for all campers, but doesn’t bar children from attending if they haven’t gotten a measles shot.
Children are required to get the measles vaccine to attend schools in New York, however, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Thursday eliminating an exemption for kids whose parents object to vaccinations on religious grounds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, as of June 1, more than 1,000 measles cases had been reported in the U.S. since the start of the year, up from fewer than 100 cases a year a decade ago. The bulk of those cases have been diagnosed in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and suburban Rockland County.
The CDC recommends everyone over a year old should get the vaccine, except for people who had the disease as children. Those who have had measles are immune.
The vaccine, which became available in the 1960s, is considered safe and highly effective — paving the way for measles to be declared all but eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But it has had a resurgence several times, including 667 cases in 2014.