- Anti-vaxxers are deliberately targeting communities where measles has hit the hardest.
- Hundreds of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended an anti-vaxx rally last week in Rockland County, New York.
- So far this year, 880 cases of measles have been confirmed across 24 states, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the greatest number of cases reported in 25 years and since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000.
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Hundreds of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered at a rally in Rockland County, New York last week to listen as speakers ticked off a slew of unverified claims about vaccinations.
There was Del Bigtree, an anti-vaxx activist who told the crowd that the dangers caused by vaccines “have turned our children into the largest human experiment in history.” Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor whose study linking the measles vaccine to autism helped spark the modern anti-vaxx movement (that study was later retracted and he was stripped of his medical licence), appeared via Skype to describe the dangers of vaccines. And, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Hillel Handler, said the measles outbreak in the Jewish community was an elaborate plan by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to shift focus from “more serious” diseases brought by migrants entering the US from Central America.
The “vaccines symposium” held in Monsey, New York, was described in a poster as a “highly informative night of science and discussion addressing your concerns, fears, and doubts.”
Antivaccination event being held in Monsey, New York. No date on the poster. Posted on Facebook by @benrothke who says it's happening tonight. Journalists? We need you. This is dangerous. pic.twitter.com/MJs9NqshJM
— Jonathan Jarry (@crackedscience) May 13, 2019
So far this year, 880 cases of measles have been confirmed across 24 states, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the greatest number of cases reported in 25 years and since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000. The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America has come out in favour of vaccines, and the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews support vaccinations. But the measles epidemic is especially acute in New York among ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, where the disease is rapidly spreading. Last month, de Blasio declared a public health emergency in response to the uptick of cases in Brooklyn.
Despite efforts by health officials to quash misinformation about vaccines, however, the anti-vaxx movement appears to be growing. As Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, one of the oldest and most well-established anti-vax groups, previously told INSIDER: “there is no question there are more families than ever involved now.” And, anti-vaxxers are deliberately targeting communities where measles has hit the hardest, according to The Washington Post.
Preying on confusion and fear
Those in New York’s ultra-Orthodox communities, who are mostly isolated from the outside world and have limited access to the internet or scientific research, can be particularly vulnerable to anti-vaxx rhetoric.
In recent months, anti-vaxxers have used techniques such as hotlines and handbooks to blast those in affected neighbourhoods. “The Vaccine Safety Handbook,” which looks legitimate but is filled with conspiracy theories and false information about vaccines, was published by a group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health (PEACH) and specifically aimed at New York’s ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods.
And the anti-vaxx efforts aren’t just targeted in New York: in 2017, PEACH sent anti-vaxx booklets to Pittsburg’s Orthodox community, with some taking to social media to complain about the propaganda. That same year, anti-vaxx activists, including Wakefield, flouted their rhetoric in Minneapolis’s Somali immigrant community, sparking fear as immunization rates dropped.
During last week’s rally in Rockland County, Handler, the ultra-Orthodox rabbi, told people that “we Hasidim have been chosen as the target… the campaign against us has been successful,” according to The New York Times.
The following day, hundreds came to New York’s state capital, Albany, to protest a bill intended to ban religious exemptions for vaccines. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has been vocal in his anti-vaxx views, spoke at the rally, despite members of his family recently publishing an op-ed in POLITICO rebuking him and describing his efforts as “part of a misinformation campaign that’s having heartbreaking – and deadly – consequences.”
Most Americans do support vaccines, as evidenced by high national vaccination rates reported by the CDC. A Reuters/Ipsos poll also found that three out of four Americans believe children should be vaccinated against measles even if their parents object.
But, a thriving anti-vaxx movement shows the gains made within the movement, with those efforts taking aim at communities most impacted by the outbreak. As Bruce Y. Lee, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, previously told INSIDER, “one of the challenges is when people forget what a big problem [measles] used to be and then forget why they’re actually doing it.”
“Vaccines are a victim of their own success,” Lee said.
- Read more:
- These are the places in the US most likely to get hit by a measles outbreak
- Despite proposed fines for anti-vaxxers in Germany and New York, vaccine exemption bills may be on the rise
- If you’re an anti-vaxxer, you have ‘blood on your hands,’ according to the UK’s healthcare secretary
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