Today is: Tuesday, August 20, 2019
National Award-winning,
Family-run Newspaper

Established 1891
Callicoon, NY | 845-887-5200
Monticello, NY | 845-794-7942
To immediately access any story, please enter the Story Number in the above box.
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Columnists > Jewish Culture

Measles and Vaccines

May 23, 2019

By Moshe Unger - columnist

It's sad that I need to write about this issue. Since many people in Sullivan County are concerned about the measles in the Orthodox Jewish community and have voiced it on these pages, I feel it's important to give it a bit of clarity and some context.
What happened now? For a long time there has been a very small group of people in the Orthodox Jewish community who were against vaccinations. In the last two years, however, there has been a measles outbreak in Israel and it reached the U.S. through travelers.

Because of the outbreak the Orthodox schools buckled down heavily on the parents who didn't vaccinate. The crack down was met with a backlash from those parents. They gathered in groups, distributed pamphlets, and became very combative for their beliefs. These efforts have gained them more exposure and more people became scared of vaccines
The vast majority of Rabbis are against the anti-vaxxer movement. The local Jewish newspapers and of course pediatricians are strongly urging people to vaccinate. Hatzalah and community activists dropped pro-vaccine pamphlets at every door in NYC.
The rate of unvaccinated children in Rockland county was less than 10%, according to accurate reports, including children with medical exemptions. In NYC it is much less. This is still within “herd immunity”, and it's even above the national average. By now, with many more people vaccinating, the rates are much lower.
For background, the global Anti-Vaxxer Movement is not new. It's almost as old as vaccines themselves. A group by the name “Anti-compulsory Vaccination League” was established in 1866 in U.K. just a few decades after the vaccination pioneer, Edward Jenner, died. Recently the movement has gained popularity in many communities in the U.S., mainly because of the success of the vaccines. People don't see the diseases it prevents but are afraid of the vaccines, because of vaccine-injury stories.
Personally, as a member of the Orthodox community I've been outraged by these people. I felt that they are promoting something that is against Halachah (Jewish Law) and it imposes a wrong image on the entire Orthodox community, who the vast majority of us do vaccinate our children.
As time went by I learned that outrage doesn't help but only increases the problem as we've seen in our community. Pediatricians and Hatzalah need to continue their effort in education and that's key. Parents who are afraid are not malicious and even to call them selfish is inaccurate. They are just afraid. They want to be most responsible for their families. A misguided person needs to be guided, not blamed.
I don't know what the doctors would recommend for a person who has a weak immune system. If they need to be restricted now in the summer, I feel very sorry for them. For people who are immune to measles, normal precautions should be taken, but overdoing fear is not productive and not healthy.
People have to realize that the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews, including Chasidim, vaccinate and are upset at the Anti-Vaxxer movement. Characterizing them in a group or fearing to be in contact with them is wrong and misplaced fears.
When we encounter limitations caused by democracy to enforce what we want on others, we should thank G-d that democracy exists. In times of kings and monarchies, governments were able to force everyone to do whatever they wanted. Since we don't want to be forced to do anything, our real power lies in influence and persuasion. There is a limit to the power communities and governments can exert, but there is no limit to influence, guidance, and positivity that can help people to change and overcome fear.
Comments? Email me:

Copyright © 2019 - Sullivan County Democrat