A group of anonymous parents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court over an emergency order by Mayor Bill de Blasio mandating that unvaccinated individuals to get their shots. The lawsuit claims the parents all have a religious objection to vaccines; it also cites notorious and incorrect anti-vaxxer claims that the MMR vaccine is specifically dangerous. One of the listed attorneys for the parents is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist better known these days for making strident anti-vaccine claims.
The parents are specifically suing the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner. Their lead counsel is Robert J. Krakow, a personal injury attorney in New York City who’s spoken at conferences critical of vaccines and has made representing vaccine-injured patients a cornerstone of his practice.
In the petition, four parents, identified only by their initials, say there is “insufficient evidence of a measles epidemic or dangerous outbreak to justify the respondents’ extraordinary measures, including forced vaccination.” New York City has had about 285 measles cases since the outbreak began in October. Measles is highly contagious and particularly dangerous for babies under six months old and people with compromised immune systems; doctors in New York are having to take extraordinary measures to keep the outbreak from continuing to spread. While most of the affected area is populated by Orthodox Jews, not every parent in the lawsuit appears to be Orthodox.
In their petition, the anonymous parents call the emergency vaccination order “abritrary, capricious, contrary to law” and a violation of their rights under the U.S. Constitution and New York state law, and claim they could face civil and criminal penalties for refusing. (In fact, the city has said that parents could face a $1,000 fine, but criminal penalties aren’t on the table.)
The petition also very specifically makes the claim, promoted by many anti-vaccine groups, that the MMR vaccine is particularly untrustworthy.
The false claim that the MMR vaccine carries special risks was first promoted by Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist who subsequently lost his license and whose paper on the subject was retracted. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has repeated that claim for years, and has headed several organizations critical of vaccines, including most recently the Children’s Health Defense Fund, which said last week it would support a legal challenge against New York city’s vaccination order.
Among several exhibits attached to the lawsuit are affidavits from doctors making anti-vaccine claims, including the particularly poisonous myth that vaccinated people actually spread measles through “shedding.” The petition itself even states, “Whether or not measles is a serious infection [sic] disease is open to question.” (It is not open to question.)
The petitioners are asking the court to vacate the emergency orders issued by the health department and prevent them from ever enforcing them. A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department told the New York Post, ““We had to take this additional action to fulfill our obligation to ensure that individuals do not continue to put the health of others at risk,” adding, “The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of states and localities to mandate vaccines to stop outbreaks.”