What does the Torah say about… The MMR jab?

With Rabbi Gary WAYLAND.

Parents refusing vaccinations is not a new issue. In 1894, a Jew in London was imprisoned for refusing to vaccinate his child against smallpox.

Chief Rabbi Adler made a statement for the prosecution that: “Its use was in perfect consonance with the letter and spirit of Judaism.” (Rabbi Asher Bush, Hakirah 13 p186)

Recently, more than 1,000 people, mainly children, contracted measles during an out- break in Swansea. Generally, one-in-15 of those who catch measles may develop complications. In this outbreak, one is known to have died.

The MMR vaccine provides 99 to 100 percent protection, yet many are still very nervous about it. In 1998 a study published in the Lancet claimed to establish a link between MMR and the development of autism. A media furore followed, with many parents opting not to vaccinate.

The rates of vaccination fell to around 80 percent, although in some areas only half of children were vaccinated. However, this initial research was discredited, with many studies across the world drawing no conclusive link between MMR and autism.

Eventually in 2010, Dr Andrew Wakefield, who was behind the report, was struck off the medical register for the “dishonest and irresponsible” way he conducted his research. The vast majority of Rabbinic authorities hold that halachically parents cannot be forced to vaccinate their children.

However, Rabbi Bush quotes that three major poskim were, “distressed and somewhat incredulous that parents should act so irresponsibly by refusing to vaccinate their children in the face of this universally accepted medical advice”.

Many parents find the concept of vaccinating children terrifying: injecting material into a healthy child that has a quantifiable, although tiny, risk, when the possibility of contracting the disease seems so remote. Nearly all parents take medical advice to inoculate, ignoring what may be a gut feeling. However, a minority still have faith in Wakefield’s report, despite the consensus that it was flawed.

Our Sages warn us against the dangers of spreading rumours. Lashon Hara, evil speech, has the dubious honour of being noted as being the cause, at least spiritually, if not physically, of the destruction of the Temple.

Rumours work best when there is a subconscious fear. If someone gives a shred of credibility to something that may be an irrational feeling, it will come out into the open. The saga of the MMR vaccine, which people are still scared to give to their children, is another case in point.