Jewish doctors have urged Charedi families to get their children vaccinated, amid the first measles outbreak in Hackney in years.
They joined public health officials in reassuring religious Jewish families that the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was safe, as extra immunisation clinics were laid on.
Cases of measles first began appearing in Israel’s strictly Orthodox community several months ago and have now spread to areas such as Stamford Hill, owing to frequent travel to Israel and the aversion of some families to vaccination.
Study after study has shown the MMR vaccine to be safe, but urban myth has prevailed among some in the religious community, with vaccination rates 20 percent below the national average.
Hackney GP Dr Joseph Spitzer said: “A local rabbi contacted me to ask about immunisation and I was able to reassure him that I have absolutely no reservations about vaccination – in fact the opposite. Childhood immunisation has been so successful it has helped wipe out many terrible and life-threatening diseases.”
Earlier this month Rabbi Avroham Pinter, a community spokesman and head of the Yesodeh Ha’Torah Senior Girls’ School, urged parents to take action, warning that the spread of measles could be deadly to the very young and very old.
Dr Spitzer agreed this week, saying: “Immunise before it is too late, to protect your children and other people’s children from measles and many other preventable diseases.”
In several instances, families have sent their other children to school even though one of their siblings has measles. Health professionals warn that this risks spreading the disease, advising instead that the whole family seek medical attention, with none of the other children going to school until they get the all-clear.
Once thought to have been eradicated, Measles is an easily-preventable disease that can cause long-term disabilities or even death.
GPs in North Hackney have now put on extra vaccination clinics to help get children under the age of five vaccinated for the first time, or to complete the vaccination schedule of older children by giving them a booster.
A spokesman for City and Hackney GP Federation said: “Immunisation protects each individual child as well as the whole family and community, because it stops diseases spreading. Vaccinations are given at intervals from birth and children need to return for boosters. The local GP practices can always advise when and what is needed for each child.”
Vaccines help the body’s immune system protect against infections of the nervous system, like meningitis, polio, tetanus and diphtheria, as well as infections that can affect a child’s breathing, like pneumonia or whooping cough.
They also help protect against measles, mumps, rubella (or German measles) and hepatitis, a liver infection, while the rotavirus vaccine, given by drops in the mouth, protects children from a virus which causes diarrhoea and vomiting.
Some religious families still believe there to be a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, but scientists have shown this to be categorically untrue. Others believe the vaccines themselves are not kosher, but they are safe and suitable for everyone, including those who follow halachic dietary guidelines. Yet others believe the vaccination can have damaging side-effects, but side-effects are rare and always temporary, lasting only a few days.