Public health officials are warning parents not to be fooled by claims that purposefully exposing their children to the measles virus at so-called “measles parties” is a safe alternative to the MMR vaccine.

New York City Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio made the plea at a press conference last week amid an outbreak of the virus that has prompted mandatory vaccinations.

Once eradicated in Canada, measles outbreaks have occurred in many countries this year. Canada has had 33 confirmed cases in 2019. The United States has had 465 confirmed cases so far this year.

It’s not clear whether measles parties are actually happening, but anti-vaccination advocates continue to push the idea on social media.

“Measles was the chicken pox of my parents’ generation,” one woman wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “They would have measles parties so they could catch the measles because measles is safer to have as a child.”

“Zero deaths people. ZERO. State of emergency, forced vaccinations, bullying, mandates all for ZERO deaths and an infection they admitted we used to have normal ‘measles parties’ for,” wrote another on Saturday.

Rachel Alter, a public health educator with March for Science, told CTV News Channel that the idea may have come from the “chicken pox parties” that happened before there was an effective vaccine against the virus varicella. Some people believed that it was better to expose children to varicella because the complications can be worse if contracted as an adult. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control strongly recommends against the practice.

Alter says vaccines have made the idea moot. “The vaccines are so effective that we really look down upon (the parties),” she said. “In some jurisdictions, they may be considered child abuse.”

“For measles which is an extremely contagious disease with a very, very effective vaccine, there is no reason to be going to these parties,” she added.

Having measles as a child “gives you a much more significant chance of disability later in life,” Alter explained. “The most dangerous part is called SSPE, which is short for subacute sclerosing panencephalitis,” she said. SSPE is “neurodegenerative progressing disease that manifests after measles, about 10 years later.”

“It is fatal. It is painful. It is completely avoided if you get the vaccine,” Alter said.

Steven Hoffman, a York University professor and director of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research’s Institute of Population & Public Health, said measles parties are “a terrible idea.”

“Measles is a very serious virus. In Madagascar, 120,000 people have gotten measles over the past few months and 1,200 have died,” he told CTV News Channel.

“It’s not something we should be taking lightly,” Hoffman added. “How fortunate we are today to live at a time when you can get vaccinated for it.”