Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Anti-Vaxxers are Literally Sickening

Rockland County - a measles outbreak has been declared an emergency (NPR)
Chamira Sakanta Me’Issura. Our sages tell us that putting our health at risk is more severe in God’s eyes than violating His commandments in the Torah. I believe that this phrase was never more apropos than it is now. 

The vast majority of medical experts have been very clear. Refusing to vaccinate one’s children for measles puts them at risk for contracting the disease. 

Measles is a virus that can remain airborne for up to 2 hours. Long after the infected person is gone. Making it extremely contagious and dangerous. Especially for very young children and the elderly. That means there is almost no way to protect oneself if there is even one individual with measles in the community. Wherever he or she goes, they will leave an airborne virus that will last for hours without anyone being aware. The unprotected can enter that room and expose themselves to the virus and not be symptomatic for up to 21 days. Making it near impossible to trace when and where they were exposed.

The best (and perhaps only) way to protect oneself from exposure is to be vaccinated. There are no credible medical experts that would dispute this simple fact. Nor would most religious leaders. which is why so many of them are calling upon all parents to vaccinate their children. This puts rabbinic leaders and medical experts on the same page. For those who see the statements of their rabbinic leaders as Daas Torah - this certainly qualifies.

And yet there are the so called anti-vaxxers among us - Orthodox Jews that refuse to vaccinate their children based on junk science. Which claims that vaccines are more dangerous to one’s health than the diseases they are supposed to protect against. Like the discredited claim that the measles vaccine causes autism.

How can they make that claim considering all the evidence against it? Because they don’t believe it is junk science. They are convinced that there is a conspiracy by ‘Big Pharma’ to hide the truth from the public because their vaccines are responsible for billions of dollars of profit. They have a lot to lose and the power to mislead the public about the ‘science they know to be true’.

I guess Daas Torah is not to be adhered to when it contradicts their facts. It is almost as if they believe their rabbinic leaders are co-conspirators with Big Pharma. Or that their rabbinic leaders have been duped by them. 

What about the Chasidic world? Chasidim have their own version of Daas Torah by virtue of their Chasidic Rebbes. If a Chasidic Rebbe tells his Chasidim to do something, they do it. If a Chasidic Rebbe tells their Chasidim to get vaccinated - that is what happens. 

This brings me to Rockland County, the home of Monsey, New York. A measles outbreak in this heavily Chasidic enclave has been declared  an emergency by public health officials. Apparently the Chasidic leaders in those communities chose to ignore the advice of medical experts and have allowed their Chasidim to refuse vaccinations for their children.

Why they have allowed this choice to be made is a question worth exploring. Do they think they know more than medical experts about health issues? Is that they don’t trust non Jewish or non religious Jewish doctors? Is it that they are not going to be told by secular authorities how to run their lives? Is it because they think that some of the junk science isn't junk? Are some of them conspiracy theorists, too? 

What ever the case may be, their decision to ignore the near universal medical advice of experts - has resulted in illnesses in their children that could have easily been avoided. Either that, or there are many Chasidim that aren't as trusting of their Rebbes as they are thought to be. 

What we have here is a sorry state of affairs for a variety of reasons. Anti-vaxxers are endangering their own children. They are responsible for the spread of the disease. And they are creating a huge Chilul HaShem – by making it appear that religious Jews are a bunch of ignorant fools. Or worse - that Jews are guilty of infecting the public with serious diseases!

Shades of the middle ages! Can anyone say Bubonic Plague?! If this doesn’t exacerbate antisemitism, I don’'t know what does!

It should be noted that Rockland county isn’t only the Orthodox community affected by a measles outbreak. Detroit’s Orthodox Jewish community has suffered its own outbreak.

Detroiters are not, however, among the anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist crowd. All it takes is one visitor from ‘out of town’ that contracted the disease elsewhere to create a crisis. In Detroit it began with a visitor from Israel, who picked up measles from one of the affected  communities in the New York/New Jersey area. Interestingly, he had thought that he had contracted the disease as a child, and was immune. He apparently didn’t and wasn’t. 

Meanwhile the rest the community has risen to the occasion and is in the process of getting booster shots to make sure they are immune. To put it the way Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein did on Cross-Currents:
The situation (in Detroit) is somewhere between precaution and panic, the latter averted only because of strong, deliberate action by community rabbonim, Hatzola, and the county medical authorities.   
Back to Rockland County. The cases are clustered in eastern Ramapo (New Square, Spring Valley, Monsey). Health officials did not take this lying down. From VIN: 
Rockland County Executive Ed Day and County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert announced fines totaling over $70,000 to nine schools that did not comply with the Health Commissioner’s order to keep un- or under-vaccinated students home from school and provide vaccination and attendance records to the Rockland County Department of Health (RCDOH) during the measles outbreak. 
The Washington Post reports:
(A)uthorities will not be searching for children who are not vaccinated but are expecting parents and legal guardians to step up and get children vaccinated. However, he said, parents and guardians who are found to be in violation will be held accountable and their cases will be referred to the district attorney’s office. Such a violation will be considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine or up to six months in jail.
How sad that it has come to this. Even sadder is the major Chilul HaShem this is causing.