Measles has resurged in America. Outbreaks of the disease in Amish communities in Ohio, Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, Somali-American communities in Minnesota, and a multi-state outbreak linked to Disneyland in California have contributed to what has been called the largest measles outbreak in the last decade.
Measles was officially eradicated from the United States in 2000, but has since come back in recent years, reports Vox. Measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017, according to The Washington Post.
The issue has become so pervasive, that anti-vaccine rhetoric has made its way into the political sphere. In Connecticut, Bob Stefanowski, a Republican following close behind his Democratic opponents, told a Tea Party group last summer that the vaccines required to be given should “depend on the vaccination” and the severity of the disease being prevented, reports The Daily Beast.
In Oklahoma, the same issue presents itself. Kevin Stitt, a Republican running for governor, said in February that he “believes in choice” and that he has six unvaccinated children for religious reasons. “We pick and choose which ones we’re going to do,” Stitt told The Daily Beast. “It has to be up to the parents.”
In Oregon, even physicians are joining in on anti-vaccination rhetoric. Dr. Knute Buehler said that parents should “have the right to opt out of vaccinations for personal beliefs, for religious beliefs, or even if they have strong alternative medical beliefs.”
One of the largest hotspots for the anti-vax movement is in New York among ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. Approximately 300,000 Jews live in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Borough Park neighborhoods and in Rockland County, where more than 400 cases of measles have been reported since October. Seventy-eight of these cases occurred in the past week. It’s believed that the outbreak began after members of the community travelled to Israel to celebrate Sukkot, a Jewish harvest festival, says The New York Times.
“The body is not a machine,” said a Hasidic mother from Rockland County. All three of her children are unvaccinated and recently measles. She did not report any of thees illnesses to medical experts and says that the children recuperated “within days.” She continued that “The body is something that reacts to toxins in certain ways. I’ve heard firsthand of cases of SIDS after children getting a vaccine.” There is no proven connection between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the measles vaccine, according to the New York Times.
“The Vaccine Safety Handbook” is a 40-page pamphlet that has been found around New York and is responsible for spreading the anti-vaccination movement’s beliefs, says the New YorkTimes. It makes claims like that vaccines cause autism, contains cells from aborted human fetuses, and that they contain “monkey, rat, and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law.” The Handbook is published by ‘Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health,’ or Peach, a publication targeted at Orthodox Jewish parents.
Despite the popularity of these claims, most prominent rabbis agree that vaccines are kosher. Scientists have also proven that despite that fact that vaccines are cultivated in a broth of animal cells, the final product of a vaccine is highly purified, says the New York Times.
“Unfortunately, we are not immune to anti-vax people,” says Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease specialist and ordained rabbi in Long Island. “They’re found in every community, every religion, and unfortunately, they’re vocal,” he explained to the New York Times in reference to anti-vaxxers.
Democratic New York State Senator Brad Hoylman also expressed his opinion. “Your right to express your sincerely held or religious belief does not extend to the right to endanger our children and our community from measles,” he said to The Daily Beast.
NPR reports that New York City mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in Brooklyn on April 9 to contain the outbreak in these neighborhoods. The ban required unvaccinated individuals to receive the vaccine or face a fine. The declaration also banned unvaccinated children from public spaces (i.e. shopping centers, parks, places of worship, schools and restaurants) for 30 days.
The ban was lifted shortly after attorney Michael Sussman, representing over a dozen families associated with the private Green Meadow Waldord School, argued that the order “prevented people under 18 who are perfectly healthy from going to church, going to school, going shopping,” reports The Conversation.
The Pew Research Center has conducted two surveys regarding politics and vaccination. One survey, conducted in early 2015, asked respondents about whether they thought vaccines were safe, and the other from late 2014 asked about U.S. vaccination policy and choice. The studies concluded that those who were “very conservative” were 150 percent more likely to believe that vaccines were unsafe than moderates and liberals, says The Conversation.
Democratic senators are currently sponsoring a bill in New York to eliminate the religious exemption option on vaccines. Similar to a law passed in California in 2015, the result would be a secular, unbiased decision to make the only vaccination exemption for medical reasons.