Five Brooklyn mothers have sued New York City for ordering mandatory measles vaccinations, accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio of unlawfully targeting Jews with an 'arbitrary' state of emergency.
De Blasio declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, giving him the power to order vaccinations in four Brooklyn ZIP codes where 285 measles cases have been reported since October, particularly in the Orthodox Jewish community.
Today, five mothers, with the support of five doctors and patient advocates, filed a lawsuit demanding the order be suspended.
One of the patients advocates is Vera Sharav, a child survivor of the Holocaust and former librarian who has become a notorious vocal critic of the medical establishment and vaccines.
In a strongly-worded affidavit, Sharav draws on her personal experience with anti-Semitism to accuse New York City of 'totalitarianism'.
'As a survivor of the Holocaust, I am especially attuned toward recognizing the signs of government overreach,' Sharav writes in her affidavit filed to a Brooklyn court on Monday morning. She adds: 'Dictatorships always invoke "the greater good of society" when they trample individual human rights.'
Normally, New York City allows for people to skip vaccinations if they have a medical reason or a religious reason. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has rescinded religious exemptions for the select area in Brooklyn where measles is spreading among Orthodox Jews
What does New York City's emergency measles vaccine order say?
Last week, city officials said those who refuse could face fines of up to $1,000 or six months in jail, according to New York Senate emergency laws.
New York City is one of the states that allows for people to skip vaccinations if they have a medical reason or a religious reason.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio has rescinded religious exemptions for the select area in Brooklyn where measles is spreading among Orthodox Jews.
The order states that as of Thursday morning, any adult or child that has not received the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine in four Williamsburg ZIP codes (11205, 11206, 11211, 11249) will be forced to do so.
(While the measles vaccine can be given separately in other countries, it is only offered as part of the MMR in the United States.)
Flouting that rule could incur a $1,000 fine or a six-month jail sentence, officials said.
They plan to track unvaccinated people by tracing anyone who may have come into contact with people who have measles.
New York City health commissioner Dr Oxiris Barbot neglected to elaborate on whether they would fine people twice if they continued to refuse vaccination.
How is this possible? The legal framework behind NYC's emergency vaccine order
1. State of emergency
When it comes to what constitutes an emergency, and how to handle it, New York state laws are broad.
The point of a state of emergency is to 'protect life and property or to bring the emergency situation under control.'
The mayor has the power to declare a state of emergency 'in the event of reasonable apprehension of immediate danger' or 'that the public safety is imperiled.' It can be declared for the entire city, or just certain ZIP codes.
It can last for up to 30 days, or until the chief executive (the mayor) rescinds it. In this case, de Blasio says, it will last until April 17, though he does have the power to end it early or extend it.
The mandatory measles vaccine has been issued in four ZIP codes in north-west Brooklyn
The law is broad about what measures the mayor can employ to bring an emergency situation under control.
Whatever measures the city decides on, they become (temporarily) law. During the emergency period, anyone who violates the new rules is guilty of a class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $1,000 or a six-month jail term.
Other cities have levied the same threats on citizens. For example, New Jersey has issued a state of emergency during snowstorms, warning anyone who drove during the curfew period would be slapped with a $1,000 fine.
2. A 100-year-old precedent for forced vaccines in Massachusetts
In 1905, the Supreme Court sided with Massachusetts after the state introduced mandatory smallpox vaccines, with a $5 fine for refusal.
It had been challenged by Rev Henning Jacobson, who said he and his son had developed allergic reactions to the first vaccine and didn't want to do it again.
The judge ruled that their concerns were not enough to override the public health risk.
The lawsuit challenging the order: Lawyer representing Brooklyn families says it is not an emergency and it targets religious groups
Michael Sussman is the civil rights lawyer pioneering the case.
He curried favor with the community after forcing a judge in upstate New York's Rockland County to allow unvaccinated kids back at school despite hosting the state's other major measles outbreak, with 168 cases since last fall.
Since de Blasio's announcement on Tuesday, he says, he has been contacted by dozens of families to repeat his performance, this time downstate.
Drawing comparison's to Donald Trump's extremely tough and unprecedented immigration policies, Sussman accuses de Blasio of 'authoritarianism.'
'The rule of law is critical. We have a country that is already leaning towards authoritarianism, with regards to immigration. De Blasio is pushing for extra-legal measures,' Sussman told DailyMail.com.
He added: 'This does not qualify as an extreme emergency.
'New York City has a carefully crafted set of public health laws. In the case of an outbreak of a contagious disease, those laws allow for quarantine to stop its spread, they also allow for a school where there is a case of