MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City’s nearly year-long measles outbreak has finally come to an end, the city announced Tuesday, just in time for back to school.
The announcement also marks the end of an emergency vaccination order enacted in April for certain city zip codes after hundreds of measles cases were confirmed in Orthodox Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn.
New York’s students head back to school Thursday, and officials warned New Yorkers to stay vigilant against the highly infectious virus.
“Measles is one of the most contagious diseases on the face of the earth,” New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in a statement Tuesday.
“There may no longer be local transmission of measles in New York City, but the threat remains given other outbreaks in the U.S. and around the world. Our best defense against renewed transmission is having a well immunized city.”
The outbreak began in October 2018, reportedly after travelers brought back the virus from overseas into communities with unvaccinated people.
Williamsburg saw 73% of the 654 measles cases citywide since the outbreak began, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.
Outbreaks are declared over about two incubation periods after the last infectious day of the last person with the measles. It’s so contagious that 90% of nonimmune people in the range of an infected person will also contract the disease.
The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is highly effective but relies on herd immunity, where as many people as possible must be vaccinated, to keep the diseases at bay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that the vaccine is “very safe” with only a “very small risk” of unusual, non-life-threatening side effects and “extremely rare” cases of serious allergic reactions.
While the outbreaks have been concentrated heavily in orthodox Jewish communities, leaders within the faith largely support vaccinations, saying their religion teaches followers to take care of their health and their neighbors.
The city spent $6 million and devoted 500 staff to fight the outbreak, according to a press release from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, which launched an aggressive information campaign against anti-vaxxers.
More than 5,000 MMR vaccinations have been administered since April’s emergency order, the mayor’s office says. The city threatened residents with a $1,000 fine if they did not comply, and issued those fines in several cases.
The 1,234 reported measles cases nationwide in 2019 represent a huge spike, up from 372 in 2018 and just 63 in 2010, according to the CDC. More than 75% of those cases were linked to New York.
Court battles have boiled all summer over the city’s emergency order and another order in Rockland County, just north of the Big Apple.
Anti-vaxxers have also challenged New York state’s repeal of a religious exemption for children who want to enter any school.
A state appellate court is expected to rule this week on one challenge to that new legislation.
“As we head back to school this week, we just remain vigilant,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement Tuesday.
“To keep our children and communities safe, I urge all New Yorkers to get vaccinated. It’s the best defense we have.”