Vaccine Misinformation

May 6, 2019 by

Vaccines Revealed


As the measles debate wears on, we’re hearing a lot about the “spread of misinformation” in relationship to vaccines. Typically, this term is used to describe the efforts of vaccine safety advocates to expose the truth about vaccines to the public, but with the current backlash and push for mandatory vaccination, we’re seeing a new level of misinformation in the press that warrants the attention of every American.

The truth is, it’s easy to accept what we see in print without taking the time to really consider what it’s saying…and whether it’s true. At a time when the nation is more divided than ever, it’s vitally important that we check the facts before accepting what we read in the media…and while it’s easier than ever to spread misinformation by simply hitting “share,” the internet has also made it easier than ever to quickly do a fact check and research claims for yourself.

This is especially important when it comes to situations like the one unfolding in New York. The state has reacted by placing the blame on one population in particular when it comes the spread of measles: The Orthodox Jewish community. Major media outlets have been feverishly publishing titles like the Washington Post’s recent “New York City vaccination order shines spotlight on insular Jewish community”. The claims made by the media and government officials have circulated throughout the country…but are they correct?

The state claims that poor vaccination rates in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are to blame for the “epidemic” of measles that’s going on in New York. They’ve targeted these neighborhoods, forcing mandatory vaccination on thousands under the threat of court charges and fines, and officials have shut down Yeshivas (Orthodox Jewish schools) over immunization records. Six thousand children who attended 60 mostly Jewish schools and child care centers have been unable to attend class, and articles are circulating throughout the nation about the measles epidemic being started by Orthodox Jews returning from visiting Israel…where measles has been active.

“I think it just opened up the door for everybody to say whatever they wanted to say,” said Steve Gold (chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council) in an interview with The New York Times. “And they’re putting, the way it looks right now, 100 percent blame on the Orthodox community.”

Why is New York blaming its Orthodox Jews for spreading the measles? Do Orthodox Jews actually vaccinate their children less than other people, for religious reasons…as is being implied by the media?

The answer is a solid “No,” and in fact, there is evidence to the contrary.  A peer-reviewed study was conducted that proved that Orthodox Jewish communities vaccinate their children at the same rate as other communities, and came to the following conclusion:

“For all immunizations, uptake in the strictly Orthodox Jewish community is not significantly different from that of the District. Responding parents had positive attitudes to the value and safety of immunizations but wished better access to services. Health professionals need to question their perceptions so that efforts to improve uptake amongst ethnic minority groups are based on facts and are responsive to identified needs.”

What about the outbreaks in Israel, which is where New York’s “epidemic” was supposed to have originated? It turns out that Israel actually has a very high vaccination rate for the MMR (and other vaccines). In fact, Jerusalem has a 96.5% rate, and rates in Israel range from 94%  at the lowest to over 98%.

What are vaccination rates in New York, the state that’s blaming Jews visiting Israel for causing a measles epidemic?  Ninety-two percent….well below the lowest vaccination rate in Israel.

It’s interesting to note here that Israel does, in fact, have a similar spike in measles to the one we’re seeing in the US. In 2017, Israel recorded just 30 cases of measles…and in 2018, they saw close to 4,000. If the country is so well-vaccinated, why have they had such a problem?

The answer might be found in the fact that, according to a study published in 2018, measles actually broke out among one of the most highly vaccinated groups possible…the Israeli army, all of whom were entirely current with their MMR vaccines. As you can see below, the study concluded that in a measles outbreak, medical professionals should “maintain a high index of suspicion of measles” even in highly vaccinated individuals:

It’s not the first time that Jewish people were blamed for an epidemic. In the middle ages, the Jews were blamed for spreading the plague….careful observance of biblical laws regarding cleanliness protected many Jews from contracting the disease, and thousands were murdered by angry mobs convinced that Jews were to blame for everyone else developing the illness.

The Nazis fueled hatred for Jews by spreading rumors that they carried and spread diseases. Warnings were posted at the entrances of ghettos, stating that the areas where Jews lived were under quarantine due to the danger of contagious disease.

The Jews were not responsible for spreading the plague in medieval times, or for causing disease in Nazi Europe. Yet no one spoke up against these accusations then…they were levied under the guise of “protecting the public,” which made them somehow more acceptable to those who either took action against them or ignored the persecution that ensued. Today, the Jews are not responsible for spreading an “epidemic” of measles, and yet the media is using the same “protecting the public” rhetoric to unfairly claim that Orthodox Judaism is responsible for measles spreading throughout the state.

Are New York health officials operating out of anti-Semitism?  While we can’t rule this out just because we don’t want to believe it’s possible, there’s another reason New York might be targeting this group of people:

State officials would love to have an excuse to eliminate the religious exemption for vaccines, and blaming the current outbreak on a religious population gives them an excellent avenue to argue that they should do so.

The fact that some Jewish people choose not to vaccinate is beside the point…some non-Jewish people also choose not to vaccinate. Contrary to the media’s claims, studies show that most people who choose not to vaccinate do so not because they are blindly following “antivaxxer” rhetoric, but because they have done the research and decided—based on what they have discovered, often from the vaccine’s own package insert—that it’s safer to risk contracting measles than it is to accept a vaccination that may or may not work (as seen in the 2017 outbreak in Israeli soldiers) and has potentially serious side effects of its own.

The problem is, no one is looking at the facts in this case. Fear-mongering and hype have fueled a sort of mob-mentality that has allowed the state to overstep its authority and mandate health choices that should, legally, be up to parents and individuals—not the government.

Blind acceptance of what is being published in the press has led many people who would normally not stand for discrimination or blame-shifting to believe something that would ordinarily raise red flags. A quick look at history (and current events) shows us how dangerous this can be.

Wherever we stand on the vaccination issue, we all need to be aware that each of us has a responsibility to investigate the facts before believing what we read.  Misinformation can have far-reaching consequences beyond our abilities of prediction, and each of us needs to do our part in preventing the needless harm that can be done when facts are skewed.

Whatever New York’s intentions, we must be vigilant to make sure that the truth prevails.

To staying informed,

The Vaccines Revealed Team

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