529 People Placed at Risk in Jerusalem Because of Anti-Vaxxers – Halachic Analysis

(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com) This past Tuesday, Israel’s Health Ministry announced that the outbreak of measles since the beginning of the year has risen to 882. Most of these cases, 529 people, were in Jerusalem. 115 cases were diagnosed in Tzfas. An additional 74 cases were in Petach Tikva, 55 in Tel Aviv, 27 in Acre and 27 in Ramle. These case are primarily affecting the religious community. Indeed, Jerusalem District Health Officer, Dr. Chen Stein Zamir, has pointed to the low immunization rates in the capital and surrounding areas. Why is the Chareidi community being more affected than the non-religious community? The answer is that there is a group of people called the anti-vaxxers that are specifically targeting the religious community. There is a Torah Mitzvah of taking safety precautions, as the verse (Dvarim 4:15) states, “V’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem.” Should the view of the anti-vaxxers set aside this Torah Mitzvah? Are there other possible Mitzvos involved here as well? And, finally, are vaccinations obligatory? Let’s keep in mind that measles is not a harmless risk-free disease. Measles can cause deafness and can be extremely painful  too– aside from the pneumonia risk, the encephalitis risk, and the possible fatal consequences. Pregnant women who get the disease are more likely to miscarry, and cancer patients with weakened immune systems are placed at grave risk. The fact that these outbreaks occurred in religious Jewish communities is also cause for Chilul Hashem.  What follows is an historical overview, followed by a halachic analysis of the topic. [RELATED – OUTBREAK CONTINUES: Suspected Case Of Measles In LAKEWOOD – Confirmed Cases Of Pertussis & Varicella] The anti-vaxxers have two concerns that are often conflated with each other.  The first is the MMR vaccine itself. They believe that there is some heretofore unidentified element in it that causes autism. The second is that some vaccines contained a preservative called “thimerosal” which contained ethylmercury – a type of mercury that has allegedly been suspected of causing autism. Thimerosal has actually been removed from the MMR vaccine with no accompanying drop in the incidence of autism. No matter. The anti-vaxxer movement has not been affected and is still moving strong. The MMR vaccine is given twice. The first is administered to infants between 12 and 15 months of age and the second vaccine is given between the ages of 4 and 6. The impetus for the growth of the anti-vaxxer movement came initially from a 1998 study published in the February 28th edition of the Lancet (pages 637-641) by Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist, and 11 other colleagues. The Lancet is a highly prestigious medical journal published in England. The study supposedly linked autism in children to the MMR vaccine. The Lancet article also said that autism has origins in the gastro-intestinal systems of children. Wakefield then made a tour of the United States in the fall of 1998, and in that tour he gave an interview at a “Defeat Autism Now” conference. In the interview, he conflated his own patients with those mentioned in his study. Wakefield had treated patients with diarrhea that did not have autism. He had conflated them with autistic patients that he never saw nor treated. DOCTORS Doctors questioned how a serious study could have had such a small sample size (there … Continue reading 529 People Placed at Risk in Jerusalem Because of Anti-Vaxxers – Halachic Analysis