ROCKLAND COUNTY, New York — Joe Hendrick’s sons are part of a growing number of children in the U.S. who haven't been vaccinated. Their family decided against vaccines for reasons that mix a firm belief in personal freedom with scientifically unconfirmed concerns about what’s in vaccines.
But Hendrick is now facing a first-of-its-kind ultimatum: Get his kids vaccinated or keep them out of all public places. And if he doesn't, he could face a potential punishment of six months in jail, although county officials and police admit that'll be hard to enforce.
"I'd rather move and make sure my family is safe. And, you know, we have the right to choose for ourselves instead of being forced into something that could potentially hurt my child," Hendrick said.
Rockland County has seen 161 confirmed cases of measles, one of the most contagious diseases known to man. Last week, the county declared a state of emergency after six months of uncooperative people hanging up the phone, closing the door on inspectors, and refusing to report cases.
Patricia Ruppert, the county health commissioner, said that many more cases exist that the county doesn't even know about. While 98 percent of the cases to date have been among Orthodox Jewish residents who live in tight-knit enclaves, the health department is fighting to communicate to the county that every single unvaccinated person, regardless of faith, bears responsibility for potential spread. Newborns who haven't been vaccinated, pregnant mothers, and people going through chemotherapy are all vulnerable.
In the interim, Hendrick has chosen homeschooling over vaccination. He's now juggling that with his job and a two-week-old newborn child. His wife is also on maternity leave.
"Oh, it's gonna make it next to impossible to do work," Hendrick said of the ban.
VICE News traveled to Rockland County, where officials are trying to reach people who've put personal choice over public health.
This segment originally aired April 3, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.