Measles — the childhood scourge that many believed was largely relegated to history — has made a significant resurgence both in Israel and in the United States. While there are pockets of concern around the country, much of the press concerning the troubling uptick in reports of the virus has focused on its presence in some haredi communities in the United States, particularly in Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York.
Israel’s Health Ministry reported 4,000 cases of measles in 2018; a year earlier, there were 30 cases. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 387 measles cases in the United States through March of this year — versus 372 in all of 2018. While these numbers are not large in the grand scheme of things, they are extraordinarily serious because of the large number of people who are being exposed to the virus in schools and other public places. The spread of the virus is tragic in every way, considering that all it takes to make the threat disappear is a simple vaccine, available in abundance to all children here and abroad.
Along with the resurgence of measles comes the finger pointing, with two different narratives: Some assert that there is a small but powerful anti-vaccination line of thinking in some haredi communities that has led to the outbreak, which runs parallel to the “anti-vax” philosophy espoused nationwide by very committed anti-vaccination advocates, including some well-known celebrities, who rely on junk science and unsubstantiated claims that vaccinations cause autism and other maladies.
Others maintain that the affected communities are largely unsophisticated and uneducated, and that parental decisions to forgo vaccination have been driven by issues relating to convenience rather than by anti-vax dogma.
We have heard reports that a majority of haredi rabbis in affected communities have urged their congregants to vaccinate their children. In the Rockland County area, for example, it has been reported that some 18,000 vaccinations have been administered in the last several months alone, and that there are signs in some area synagogues telling those who aren’t vaccinated that they aren’t welcome. Yet the outbreak continues, and is intensifying.
Whatever the reason for the outbreak, we need strong leadership within the affected communities to address and resolve it. Public health and safety is being threatened by a small group of either ignorant, irresponsible parents or stubborn anti-vaxxers (or both). If leadership in those communities fails to act, public health authorities and other law enforcement agencies will almost certainly step in. And the results will be messy.
Vaccinations are safe, effective and necessary. They are not toxic. They do not cause autism. And they save lives. Those who refuse to vaccinate put their children and their communities at risk. They need to be stopped. There is very little room for compromise.