J'lem seeks unvaccinated kids in effort to stem measles outbreak

600 infants from haredi families have not been vaccinated against measles.

September 11, 2007 20:50
3 minute read.
J'lem seeks unvaccinated kids in effort to stem measles outbreak

israelis in shuk 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Jerusalem Municipality is looking for the estimated 600 infants from haredi families who have not been vaccinated against measles and hopes to persuade their parents to bring them in for the shot, which is given at age one, followed by a booster at six. The city's public health branch suggests that the reasons for the failure to get children vaccinated are that some parents oppose vaccinations for ideological reasons or accept homeopaths' guidelines against vaccinations, or that children were ill when they were scheduled for a shot. The symptoms of measles are a high fever, a cough, red eyes and sensitivity to light. Health Ministry chief epidemiologist Dr. Paul Slater told The Jerusalem Post that only between 60 and 70 percent of haredi children around the country have been vaccinated against measles, which is caused by a very infectious virus that, in some cases, leads to respiratory and nervous system complications and even death. "The parents are very busy with their large families," suggested Slater, who himself is haredi. "Some of them have several children of an age that should receive vaccinations. But maybe they just grab at this excuse." The American-born physician said haredi leaders are "in favor of vaccination against infectious diseases." "They have never come out against it. Most haredi parents take their infants to Tipat Halav [family health] stations in the beginning and in an intermittent way, but some don't make sure they get all of those [vaccinations] on the list," he said. When asked why the vaccination rate among Israeli Arabs, whose family size is quite similar to that of haredim, is much higher - over 90% - Slater said: "Maybe there are better outreach programs for Arabs." There have been 34 reported cases of measles, 33 of them in Jerusalem, since a wedding of Satmar hassidim in the capital on August 2. Dr. Brendon Stewart, a doctor at the Terem urgent care center in East Talpiot, identified one of the wedding guests, who came from London for the celebration, as having measles. His symptoms were not exactly characteristic, but Stewart had learned from a Web site of a very recent measles outbreak in London, and reached the conclusion that he was infected. He informed the Health Ministry, but it did not send posters to Satmar synagogues advising all unvaccinated children to come in for shots, but gave immunoglobin to infants under one with whom the sick man had been in contact. The incubation time for the virus is two weeks. Twenty-five of the cases were small children, none of whom had been vaccinated. Fortunately, no one died, but one or two of the children were hospitalized, Slater said. "The infection is now in its third generation, as every two weeks, those in contact with an infected person can become infected themselves." He predicted that the outbreak would end during Succot, when children are on a week's vacation from kindergartens and schools. The ministry's main job is to call on parents to take children for vaccinations on time, said Slater. The measles immunization is only one shot before first grade, but the triple diphtheria-tetanus-whooping cough immunization comprises four shots in four years. "Many haredi kids get only a couple, and most are behind. For measles, we would consider lowering the minimum age to nine months or even half a year, but the vaccine doesn't work so well, as the baby's immunity inherited from its mother, which wears off, interferes with the vaccine and may prevent it from taking at a younger age." Asked whether the ministry should offer incentives - such as a bag of diapers - to haredi families and others with low rates of vaccination, Slater said that it is the job of each district health office to locate pockets of unvaccinated children in their area. No one wants an outbreak, as it looks like "they haven't been doing their job," he said, but he did not know of any incentive program. "Maybe without the hard work of the district health office, the situation would be worse." The Jerusalem Municipality, which owns and operates its own Tipat Halav stations (unlike most of the country, where they are supplied by the ministry or health funds), claimed "the rate of infants vaccinated against measles in Jerusalem is 96.5% - among the highest in the country." When the outbreak began in Jerusalem, Mayor Uri Lupolianski gave an order to provide free vaccinations to anyone who came to a family health station, which ordinarily charge NIS 490 for five years of care.

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