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Anti-Vaccine Myths Among Ultra-Orthodox Help Fuel Historic Measles Outbreak

The number of measles cases nationally may soon set a 21st century record, the Washington Post reported. As of Tuesday morning, the number of measles cases across the country had reached 465, spurred in large part by the ongoing outbreak in the Hasidic communities in Brooklyn and New York’s Rockland County, as well as an outbreak in the Portland metro area.

If the number of reported measles cases continues at its current pace — an average 4.84 new cases each day — it could eclipse the record set in 2014 of 667 cases by June.

Measles has become a global problem. There are ongoing outbreaks in Israel and the Ukraine.

Last month, Rockland County, a suburban area north of New York City home to tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews, declared a state of emergency, barring unvaccinated minors from being in public spaces for 30 days. But a lawsuit filed by parents at a Waldorf school in the area led a judge to strike the ban down with 20 days left to go.

Anti-vaccine parents have compared their being targeted by health officials to the persecution faced by Jews during the Holocaust. One woman wore a yellow star to a protest of the Rockland County ban.

In Rockland County, the outbreak is hitting Hasidic communities that are receptive to misinformation about vaccines, with some even going so far as to defy their rabbis, who urge them to vaccinate.

A group called PEACH — Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health — is discouraging vaccination through a hotline and magazines. Rabbi William Handler of Brooklyn insists — contrary to established medical consensus — that there is a connection between the measles vaccine and autism, Vox has reported.

The outbreak has also caught the county’s Latino community off guard, since many of them work in Hasidic homes as domestic workers, yet were not broadly informed about the outbreak.

To learn more about how this outbreak evolved, read these stories from the Forward:

  1. Why Do Some Ultra-Orthodox Jews Defy Their Rebbes And Refuse Measles Vaccines? – January 24, 2019

  2. State Of Emergency Declared To Fight Measles Outbreak Begun In Hasidic Community – March 26, 2019

  3. Anti-Vaxxer Wore Yellow Star To Protest Of Measles Emergency In Rockland County – March 29, 2019

  4. El Al Flight Attendant Gets Measles On Flight From New York To Tel Aviv – April 3, 2019

  5. Measles Emergency Declared In New York City – Mandatory Vaccinations In Brooklyn – April 9, 2019

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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