Brooklyn Measles Outbreak Worries Latinos

Obdalys Paulino, resident of Los Sures, Brooklyn. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

[Update: The Health Department announced on April 8 it has “issued Commissioner’s Orders to all yeshivas in Williamsburg to exclude unvaccinated students or face violations and possible closure.” The following day, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency and ordered people residing or working in the “11205, 11206, 11221 and/or 11249 zip codes” to receive the measles vaccine within 48 hours of the order.]

As the sound of knives cutting meat accompanies the conversations of a group of Hispanic residents at an establishment in Los Sures, the Brooklyn area known for its large Puerto Rican and Dominican communities, a woman’s voice stands out above the chatter.

“We Hispanics do vaccinate!” said loud and clear Obdalys Paulino, a mother of three and grandmother of two who moved from Santo Domingo to South Williamsburg only a month ago. The comment was in response to the news of a measles outbreak in the neighborhood, where she is expecting to welcome her children and grandchildren in the next days.

“In the Dominican Republic, children are vaccinated starting from when they are 2 months old until they are 7,” said Paulino, who was shocked by the news especially because “measles were eliminated long ago even in our countries where health services are so poor.”

She is right. Only three years ago, the “region of the Americas” was the first in the world to be declared free of measles by a committee of experts (…)

However, the city announced recently that there is a measles outbreak in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn affecting mostly the areas of Williamsburg and Borough Park, as well as [a few cases in] parts of Midwood/Marine Park and Bensonhurst. Most of the 259 confirmed cases are of school children. [Editor’s note: The number, as of April 8, has risen to 285 cases, 246 of them youths.]

This new reality is alarming for Senovia Zenón, who has “religiously” vaccinated her 11-year-old daughter, and says nobody in her child’s school told her about the outbreak. “Nobody has sent any notification. I haven’t heard anything,” said the Dominican woman, who has only learned about it thanks to neighborhood “word of mouth.”

The lack of information, said Zenón, might stem from the fact that the outbreak is mostly affecting Orthodox Jewish schools and child care centers, not public schools, according to the city’s Health Department (DOHMH) (…)

Council member Antonio Reynoso, who represents District 34, which includes the affected area, said that so far there are no reports of infected Hispanic minors. He stressed the importance of vaccines but added that he does not want to create alarm in the community.

(…) “I believe this is a free country and anyone can do as they please, and you have to respect that, but those who want to be vaccinated and remain healthy also deserve to be respected,” said Mercedes Rosario, another resident of Los Sures.

(…)

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