This isn’t the first time the question of banning unvaccinated students from school has arisen, but the story coming out of Brooklyn this Christmas season has a bit of a twist. School officials in several communities informed parents this week that students attending Orthodox Jewish yeshivas in Williamsburg, Mapleton, Broadway Triangle, Kensington, Sunset Park, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Midwood and Marine Park would not be allowed to attend class until they receive the proper number of measles vaccinations. This rule would apply even if the student had a religious exemption. An outbreak of the disease in these schools prompted the decision. (US News)

Health officials said in a letter Thursday that children in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn cannot return to their schools until they have gotten the appropriate measles vaccinations.

Amid a measles outbreak, New York City health officials are banning unvaccinated children from attending schools in some Brooklyn zip codes.

As of Wednesday, there had been 39 cases of confirmed measles in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn since October, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said. The child with the first confirmed case of the virus was unvaccinated and had contracted measles while on a trip to Israel. Additional unvaccinated children in the area also traveled to Israel and contracted measles while abroad. Israel is currently facing an outbreak of the disease.

A number of students who recently traveled to Israel came down with measles, leading to a quickly spreading outbreak. Israel has been experiencing a widespread measles outbreak this winter.

We’re a bit lacking in laws covering how these policies are implemented. The National Institute of Health has guidelines for excluding students from classes when they have infectious diseases such as chickenpox and measles, but enforcement is generally handled at the local level.

It appears the resistance to childhood vaccinations is a particular problem in the Orthodox Jewish community and has been for some time now. The NIH issued a report specific to this community back in 2008 in which they came up with some recommendations, but no definitive policy was established. The primary driver was found to be the relative “isolation” of the Orthodox Jewish community and subsequent susceptibility to rumors about dangers associated with vaccines.

This whole “anti-vax” debate is one that I’ve largely stayed out of in the past, primarily because I find it so frustrating. Claims about dangers of autism, etc. from vaccines simply haven’t held up under close scrutiny. The CDC’s finding and recommendations regarding vaccinations present a compelling argument that any negative side-effects from vaccination are mild and very short-term. The odds of a disastrous side-effect are so remote as to be negligible, while the benefits of what’s known as “herd immunity” vastly outweigh those concerns.

So can the schools ban these unvaccinated children until the measles outbreak subsides? Both from a legal perspective and sound medical research, the answer appears to be yes. There’s still a fair chance that somebody will fight this based on a claim of religious freedom, but it’s hard to muster much sympathy for them in that event.