The U.S. measles outbreak, especially prevalent among Charedi Orthodox Jews, has topped 700 cases — the most in one year since the Centre for Disease Control declared the disease eliminated in the United States in 2000.
The record outbreak of 704 cases reported last week by the CDC includes 400 cases in New York and its suburbs, where it has mainly affected the Charedim, topping the 667 cases in 2014. Before the disease was declared eradicated, the previous high was 963 cases in 1994.
The CDC pinned the resurgence on the unvaccinated and those who brought back measles from other countries. The outbreaks in Orthodox Jewish communities were associated with travellers who carried the disease back from Israel and Ukraine, according to the CDC.
Despite institutional pressure, a strain of opposition to vaccines has persisted in Charedi communities based on false claims that vaccines are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. Large families, close-knit communities and the complexity of timing immunisations for a family’s many young children also have contributed to the outbreak.
The majority of Orthodox Jewish children are vaccinated, according to statistics issued by the New York state and New York City health departments. There is no religious reason not to be vaccinated. Prominent rabbis in New York have called on their followers to vaccinate their children.
At the end of March, Rockland County in New York City’s northern suburbs declared a state of emergency over a measles outbreak largely concentrated in the city’s Orthodox Jewish community.
Earlier in April, more than 250 El Al airlines crew members were vaccinated against the measles after a flight attendant contracted the disease during a flight from New York.