By SHELDON BERKOWITZ
In the April edition of the Jewish World, there was an excellent JTA article, “Why Orthodox communities are the center of a measles outbreak.” Lies and misinformation from anti-vaccine groups around the country are sparking an outbreak of underimmunized children who are then susceptible to a variety of vaccine-preventable diseases.
In our own community, we are all aware of the most recent measles outbreak in Minnesota in 2017. Health officials generally feel that if at least 95 percent of a population is immunized against measles, then the remainder of unimmunized individuals (including some who may have a medical contraindication to being immunized) will be protected by what is called herd immunity.
As the percentage of individuals vaccinated continues to drop, the entire community is at risk. Currently, Minnesota is not seeing the outbreaks of measles as they are in New York and elsewhere — but we can’t be lulled into thinking that we are safe — even in our Jewish schools.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reports the rates of vaccinations by county and school, including what the rate of MMR (the vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella) fully vaccinated children is for that school as well as what the rates are of children in that school with non-medical exemptions. While some of the Jewish institutions in our state are at 100 percent of their children being fully vaccinated, there are others that are below 90 percent and at least two have 11 and 12 percent rates of nonmedical exemptions (also called personal belief exemptions).
In those schools, if your child is unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons or may have an impaired immune system that can’t fight off infections or is being treated for cancer, they are at risk of getting measles (and other vaccine preventable diseases) from a child next to them whose parents have decided not to vaccinate for non-medical reasons.
I urge the leaders of all of our schools and daycares to require 100 percent vaccination rates for all children that don’t have a medical exemption, and call upon parents to look up their schools’ rates (or for the rates of schools they are thinking of sending their children to) and urge their administrators to demand this of the other parents — and consider whether you want your child to attend any school with a low rate of vaccination.
During the 2017 measles outbreak in Minnesota, I was at a meeting of Muslim imams from around the state as I and other health care leaders spoke to them about measles. One of the imams stood up and said to his colleagues, “This is our problem. We can’t allow our children to die of measles.” It is time for our own rabbis and Jewish community leadership to stand up and say this is our problem and we will not allow our children to die of measles or any other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Dr. Sheldon Berkowitz, MD, FAAP, is president-elect of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He lives in St. Paul.