Thursday, January 29, 2015

Immunizations and Responsible Parenting

With the recent outbreak of Measles due to an unvaccinated child at Disneyland, everyone seems to be talking about the parents, known as anti-vaxxers, who choose to not have their children vaccinated for various reasons. Hillel Day School, the Jewish day school that I attended as a child and where my children now go to school, recently changed its policy about vaccinations -- a decision which I support wholeheartedly.

The Head of School, Steve Freedman, sent out an email to the school community outlining the new policy which he implemented. The bottom line is that no children without up-to-date vaccinations, unless they have a medical waiver from the child's physician, will be allowed to continue at the school. He wrote, "Hillel reserves the right to: Exclude any child whose family has refused immunization, exclude any child who is not immunized against measles or pertussis and has been potentially exposed, for the duration of the incubation period." Regarding students who are not immunized for non-medical reasons, such as on religious grounds or for a philosophical objection, he explained, "Hillel Day school will not accept religious grounds as an objection. On the contrary, Jewish values would insist on vaccinations based on the concept of pikuah nefesh – saving a life. Vaccines not only protect your children, they also protect the others in the community. If not enough people are immunized, others are put at risk, including young children, babies, the elderly, and pregnant women." (Waivers for philosophical objections will only be granted after parents take a required class from the county health department).

After the email from Hillel last week, I was contacted by the Detroit Jewish News for my opinion of this decision, both as a rabbi and as a parent in the school. Here's how I responded:

"A core ethic of Judaism is pikuach nefesh, the idea that preserving human life overrides virtually any other Jewish law. With modern medicine we understand that it is essential for good health that babies and young children receive vaccinations on the required schedule. Not receiving these vaccinations puts that individual's life at risk, as well as countless others. Therefore, I argue that refusing vaccinations for babies and children is antithetical to living in accordance with Jewish law."

"When I read the recent email from Steve Freedman at Hillel Day School, where my children attend, I was grateful for his tough stance on vaccinations. Just one child at a school who isn't vaccinated puts everyone else at risk and that is irresponsible."



When we hear of parents who are anti-vaxxers, should we mind our own business recognizing their right to choose their child's medical treatment based on their beliefs or are we duty bound to say something? In many cases, I maintain that parents are overly critical of other parents in our society. It's always easier to judge others' parenting choices than to point the magnifying glass to oneself. My recent contribution to the Rabbis Without Borders blog on MyJewishLearning.com tackled the question of when to withhold judgement of another's parenting choice and when to intercede. Titled "Let the Parenting Criticism Stop... Unless," I argue that adults are often overly critical of other parents and should mind their own business, however there are two cases in which it's warranted for us to step in and intervene:

Many parents are quick to judge other parents, but haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. We’ve all seen parents roll their eyes when another parent lets their young child see a questionable movie, get a cell phone at an early age, wear expensive name brand clothing, or go out in the cold without a jacket. As the Similac video made clear, our global concern should be over the well-being of all children rather than trying to force our own opinions of how best to parent on others.

So, if it’s inappropriate for parents to criticize other parents over the source of food for infants and whether to let their children play outside without a warm jacket, is it ever acceptable to be critical of our peers’ choices as parents?

There is certainly gray area when it comes to criticizing other parents, but my sense is that our gut reaction will usually be right. There are certain things that occur between a parent and child that are none of our business, but there are other things that have a harmful effect – either on that child specifically or on society at large. I maintain that when it comes to parents not vaccinating their children or engaging in corporal punishment, we are duty bound to intercede and voice our disagreement. For just about everything else, just grin and bear it.

Not vaccinating a child is harmful to society in general. The anti-vaxxer movement is gaining strength and even within the Jewish community there are parents who choose not to have their own children vaccinated (even though many of these parents were themselves vaccinated as children). As an article in The Jewish Daily Forward by Josh Nathan-Kazis from last September revealed, there have been several cases of large scale Measles outbreaks in the ultra-Orthodox community. The article quoted Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, who told the Baltimore Jewish Times that vaccinations are the problem and are a hoax. The rabbi even called the Polio vaccine a hoax. Others offer that it's not healthy to inject our children with immunizations because there can be horrible side-effects. These opinions have been proven to be false and the continued promotion of these myths is what is truly dangerous.

In Judaism, we put our health first. That's the bottom line. I thank God for the brilliant people like Jonas Salk who have used their God-given skill to discover the vaccinations needed to protect our society against disease. If our world is to continue valuing our health and the health of our children, we must not allow people to leave their children unvaccinated against those diseases for which we have immunizations. It puts everyone at risk and that's irresponsible.

6 comments:

Mark Gesswein said...

If your child is vaccinated against a disease, that would indicate that not only does he/she NOT have the disease, but that he/she won't GET the disease even if exposed to whatever causes it. So, if my child who is UNvaccinated, and who doesn't have the disease, comes into contact with your child, how does my child endanger your child? (or anyone else, for that matter?)

The incident at Disney was obviously brought about by having an infected person (who probably was a foreigner on vacation) pass that on to several kids who were not vaccinated. No child or adult who WAS vaccinated was affected in any way.

By the way, it's common knowledge that there are outbreaks of Measles in the US EVERY year. This particular outbreak just happened to get a lot more press then in previous years, for some reason.

If you go back and look at the history of infectious diseases, you'll find that what contributed most to their demise as societal issues was hygiene, not vaccination schedules. In the countries where Measles is still prevalent, it is that way due to lack of clean drinking water and poor overall hygiene.

Do vaccines have their place in society? Sure! But, you've obviously not done much research into the opposing viewpoint on pumping an infant with pathogens and known neurotoxins. Read the label on the bottle of the MMR vaccine, especially the cautions and warnings. It's rather enlightening...

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Hey Mark,

Thank you for reading my post and for your comment. I am trying to find the label on the bottle of the MMR vaccine. I was unable to find it with a quick web search, so if you could please pass it along that would be helpful.

With regard to your comment about the fact that only unvaccinated individuals would be susceptible to contacting a disease like measles, from what I understand if measles enters a community of 100 unvaccinated people, 90 of them will likely get measles. If measles enters a community of vaccinated people, 5 of them will likely catch it.

That means that parents who choose not to vaccinate their children would be responsible for even five of those lives out of 100. You are certainly entitled to have doubt about modern medicine and scientific innovation, but when it comes to the health of our country, parents have a responsibility to vaccinate their children.

If you know of studies that have been confirmed by the CDC that show that these immunizations cause harm to children, including autism, please provide the links.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Hey Mark,

Thank you for reading my post and for your comment. I am trying to find the label on the bottle of the MMR vaccine. I was unable to find it with a quick web search, so if you could please pass it along that would be helpful.

With regard to your comment about the fact that only unvaccinated individuals would be susceptible to contacting a disease like measles, from what I understand if measles enters a community of 100 unvaccinated people, 90 of them will likely get measles. If measles enters a community of vaccinated people, 5 of them will likely catch it.

That means that parents who choose not to vaccinate their children would be responsible for even five of those lives out of 100. You are certainly entitled to have doubt about modern medicine and scientific innovation, but when it comes to the health of our country, parents have a responsibility to vaccinate their children.

If you know of studies that have been confirmed by the CDC that show that these immunizations cause harm to children, including autism, please provide the links.

clergymom said...

Mark,
How does your child endanger another child by not being vaccinated?
First off, children under a year are not vaccinated and are at higher risk. Children under 5 have not had the second vaccination so are at somewhat higher risk. The vaccination does not work in about 1% of the cases, but that 1% would not be a problem if those around them are vacinnated. Finally, there are children who cannot be vacinated due to health problems.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Important blog post on Night of the Living Dad : Why We Didnt Vaccinate Our Child

David said...

Mark - immunizations work because of the principle of herd immunity - your child who is Unvaccinated can endangers any child who is less than one year of age or less than 5 years of age (the two times the MMR is recommended for administration for it to be effective). And while someone who is properly vaccinated will likely not get the disease that does not mean that can not expose the virus to others (especially young infants and children) who have yet to be vaccinated. Clearly you need to read up a bit more on vaccinations and these viruses and how they are spread.

Finally it does not matter who patient zero was at Disneyland that brought the Measles to the happiest place on earth. How can you be so sure that is was a foreigner on vacation? But let's assume you're correct. The reason the virus spread so quickly is because southern California is plagued with people who think like you do - that not giving your children the vaccine in some perverted sense of logic is a good thing to save them from. Measels is a virulent virus that is airborne and quickly spreads - even to the hands and surfaces of vaccinated humans who can easily then bring it to vulnerable people (infants, young children whose titers aren't up, or the immunosuppressed - aka children with cancer like the children the Make a Wish Foundation brings to Disneyland ALL THE TIME!)

I am going to California in a few week to visit my brother who has a son that is less than 1 and therefore has yet to receive his first MMR shot. Now we can't go to Disneyland like we were planning on despite all of us being vaccinated - we don't want the possibility of bringing the virus back to my nephew's home. So please, enlighten yourself - and like Rabbi Jason said when you have actual scientific articles to show proof of your claims please feel free to share with us.