Orthodox community battles measles outbreak amid vaccination controversy

Charedi schools are considering making the MMR vaccine compulsory for all of their pupils © Matthew Lotz

Orthodox Jewish leaders are urging people to get vaccinated as the community battles a measles outbreak that has been traced back to Israel.

Extra immunisation clinics have been laid on and leaflets distributed in Yiddish in a response coordinated by Public Health England and the local Clinical Commissioning Group, after a number of cases were reported across Hackney.

Schools are urging parents to keep their kids at home if anyone in the family contracts the illness.

The number of children who have received the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, is roughly 10% lower in Hackney than the London average, and 20% below the national average.

Some sectors of the Jewish community remain sceptical about the MMR vaccine due to its perceived association with autism – a link which has long been debunked.

Charedi communities across Europe and America are understood to have been affected by the outbreak after over 1,300 measles cases were reported in Israel, one claiming the life of an 18-month-old girl in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, principal of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, said that there was nothing in Jewish teachings which prohibited inoculation. “Conventional Jewish law would require that people should vaccinate.

“The accepted position is that there is an obligation to vaccinate to protect yourself and others. Schools such as my own have given out information and are encouraging parents to immunise their children.”

He added that there had been discussion in Charedi schools in the area about the possibility of making vaccination compulsory. Rabbi Pinter said he “would be sympathetic” to the idea.

Dr Anita Bell, a consultant at Public Health England’s local Health Protection Team, said: “Measles spreads very easily among anyone who has not had two doses of MMR, particularly children, and this is why large outbreaks can occur in local communities.”

In a statement, Public Health England said it had “written to local GPs, schools, nurseries, and children’s centres to raise awareness that measles is circulating.”