The Measles Epidemic

The measles crisis is expanding, public health specialists and governmental agencies are reacting and naturally the media is increasingly reporting. The epicenter in the United States is Williamsburg and Rockland County, New York. The health detectives have traced the trajectory of the outbreak to the Hareidi community in Israel. Transferred to America by an Israeli child who visited New York, the epidemic is spreading and given that Pesach is just about here and soon the Catskills will be inundated with summer vacationers the contagion will likely get worse unless everyone gets vaccinated.

The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, local and some national and international radio stations have accurately and broadly posted information on the topic. Interestingly, the media reports are consistently both medically and communally accurate.

All the valid medical reports attest to the fact that there is no evidence that vaccinations cause autism. Measles can cause delayed brain damage and, in some instances, kill. Measles are also extremely contagious and can remain in the air for two hours. If you do not have the proper immunity and you are exposed to it, you can develop a case of the disease and thereby spread the measles to others. If you are even possibly contagious you must stay in isolation for 21 days, the incubation time to know if you will develop the disease and not spread the germs to others. Symptoms can develop as soon as seven to fourteen days after exposure. In that time, you are contagious enough to spread the disease to others.

The vaccination that is given for measles also contains the vaccination for mumps and rubella, also known as German measles. These three diseases are all life-threatening and additionally even if people do not die after getting any of them they have other possible lifelong complications. Mumps, for example, can cause a man to be sterile. German measles can cause long-term cardiac, liver and spleen problems. It is important to know – properly vaccinated individuals are 97% protected.

Antivaxxers spout inaccurate and deadly lies. They are true believers of a cult of self-destructive health practices. It is that simple.

Being an antivaxxer though is too simple an approach to trying to understand why otherwise caring parents would spout such harmful ridiculous and harmful approaches for their families. Some hide behind erroneous, false science. Others use a religious exemption that has no basis in religious belief; quite the opposite, particularly in religions that place great emphasis on valuing life and health.

There is an interesting clip that appeared on a local New York City television station. At 27 seconds in to the video there is a brief clip of an exchange between someone, it is not clear who that person is and if he is a New York City official, attempting to explain that the declaration of a public health emergency because of the measles epidemic is not a religious Jewish issue to a group of Hareidi mothers who, in response, become belligerent.

Aside from the fact that the women clearly are enjoying being filmed, one wonders if they have a television set at home to view themselves later. I am taken by the Burberry clothes they are wearing and the Bugaboo strollers they are ferrying their infants in. Out of curiosity, I commented to someone familiar with the community. The women seem adorned with quality and are quite vocal. They are aggressive in their beliefs but are they educated enough to know the consequences of their actions regarding their children’s health? Later in the video there is discussion of “measles parties” – deliberately infecting children by having them spend time with other children who are already ill with the disease. Are these people representative of the larger community?

In any community there are outliers intellectually, financially and in religious beliefs. The same applies to the Hareidi community. In this community, however, the idea that certain government rules can be ignored, even at the expense of the larger community and the health and well-being of others is more common. This too is not an uncommon behavior in insular communities, very much like the way rules for reporting abusers to the authorities are ignored at the expense of the vulnerable.

Why is a psychologist concerned about measles and vaccinations? For several reasons. I am protective, perhaps overly so, to the degree that I can be for all people. It is part of my personality and reinforced by my professional training and experience. I am concerned by what may happen to people who develop any of these diseases, survive but have long-term consequences. They often end up in our consultation rooms with a variety of additional emotional and psychological issues. From a socio-psychological view I am always curious about how groups evolve, who claims to represent who and what the after-effects are for the less vocal or those under-represented. And on a grander scale, what is the impact on the Hareidi community if the epidemic spreads to the larger world.

As far as I can see, there is no good reason other than a medically diagnosed disorder not to vaccinate.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon, is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee. He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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