Are Measles Vaccines a ‘Religious Obligation’?

in Featured, In The News
May 14th, 2019

Getting vaccinated against measles is not only religiously acceptable, but also a religious obligation, according to an expert on health law, ethics, and Jewish studies.

The measles vaccine (which is typically combined with mumps and rubella—known as the MMR vaccine) is 97 percent effective at preventing measles after two doses. But with 764 confirmed cases and rising, the United States is experiencing the largest outbreak of measles since 2000, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had declared the highly contagious disease eliminated thanks to vaccination.

Worldwide, the World Health Organization reports a 300 percent increase in the number of measles cases since the beginning of 2019. The cause? The number of unvaccinated people has been growing, causing a global spike in measles.

A deadly outbreak

It’s a worrisome turn of events. Despite how easily vaccination can prevent measles, Rachel Fearns, an associate professor of microbiology at Boston University and an investigator at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, wants us to remember that “it is not a benign infection, at all. One in 1,000 cases can cause brain swelling and one in 1,000 cases can result in death,” she says.

WHO officials say the root cause for this global increase is poverty, preventing many medical systems around the world from being able to vaccinate enough of the population to quash the measles virus.

The current US outbreak has its roots in Ukraine, where almost 70,000 people have contracted the virus since 2017. The link? Each year, on Rosh Hashanah, many Orthodox Jewish men make an international pilgrimage to a religiously significant site in Ukraine.

Last year, the Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage occurred in early September. By October, nearly 1,000 measles cases had popped up in Israel. The first known US patient, a child from Brooklyn, was diagnosed that same month after a trip to Israel. Now, the outbreak has hit unvaccinated people living in Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York, the hardest.


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