More than two million Israelis are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated for the measles, according to a Channel 13 report.An outbreak of the measles has been worrying Israelis for months as it spread throughout the country, as well as in the rest of the world. But Israeli media reports on Tuesday night exposed the severity of the situation and the difficulty in solving the crisis.Worshipers attending certain synagogues in Israel, as well as many cases presented recently in New York have surfaced.New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot declared a public health emergency last week, warning that all unvaccinated people in Brooklyn will now be required to receive the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or face strict penalties. The emergency was declared due to an outbreak of the disease among ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in the area. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will check the vaccination records of any person who may have been exposed to infected patients. Anyone who has not been vaccinated or have evidence of immunity could receive a violation and be fined $1,000.The order also prohibits unvaccinated students from attending school or day care. Any school or day care which allows unvaccinated students to attend, could face violations subject to fines of $1,000 per violation or even closure.During a press conference last week, de Blasio stressed that urgent steps need to be taken now, before the Passover vacation, since many people will be traveling and congregating during the Passover vacation, which could substantially heighten the risk of the outbreaks getting much, much worse."This a disease that can spread in just a few hours," de Blasio said. "It can be fatal."The measles vaccination will be given to all who need it at NYC immunization clinics, even to people who couldn't usually afford it.285 people have been infected since the outbreak began in the Orthodox Jewish community in NYC since last October.Jewish community leaders have been working with the NYC municipality to try and curb the outbreak, but New York yeshivas have violated Department of Health orders to keep out infected students multiple times since the outbreak began.Most of the cases of the measles outbreak were reported in Borough Park and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Large measles outbreaks have been reported worldwide, including a large outbreak in Israel.There have been reports of "measles parties," in which children are brought near an infected person so that they get infected. NYC Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio stressed during the press conference that this is an exceedingly dangerous practice and should be avoided. Officials at the press conference also stressed that the vaccine is 97% effective and has been proven to be safe.An El Al flight attendant was hospitalized in serious condition last week after she contracted measles on a flight from John F. Kennedy airport in New York to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, according to the Times of Israel.No deaths have been reported during the outbreak in NYC, but some patients have ended up in intensive care with severe complications.The Health Ministry claims that it has only 115,000 doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine available and 100,000 additional doses of the MMRV vaccine, which combines the diminished measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, according to Channel 13.State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has considered examining the Health Ministry’s handling of the recent measles outbreak, according to a report released in January.The comptroller’s office contacted infectious disease and public health experts, and is working on compiling data about past efforts regarding the measles outbreak, examining if they were sufficient.However, no formal decision has been made so far over the next steps to take in combating the outbreak.The ministry released a statements in the past warning the general public about the dangers of measles, including that one out of every ten patients requires hospitalization after contracting the virus.Nearly three percent of hospitalized patients also have encountered issues with pneumonia. According to data presented at that time, three have contracted meningitis and two measles cases resulted in fatalities.The ministry has been facing intense criticism for its “ineffective” efforts in containing the outbreak.Critics cite the delayed start of vaccination efforts in the Jerusalem area, the city with the largest amount of unvaccinated people.Moreover, those born between 1957 and 1977 only received one dose of the measles vaccine and are only partially protected.For years, the ministry has also not taken action against doctors who distributed false information about vaccines, and has not worked to exhort the public to vaccinate their children. Finally, critics mentioned the lack of government support for Tipat Halav (early childhood clinics), where most infants receive their first vaccinations.The measles surfaced due to the failure of thousands of parents to vaccinate themselves or their children, particularly among the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities in Jerusalem, according to Health Ministry officials.Community leaders and rabbis in recent months have sent mobile units to entire neighborhoods to vaccinate citizens living in the affected areas.Several members of Knesset have reacted to the outbreak in the past.“The antisemites in Europe once blamed the Jews for spreading the Black Plague,” said former MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli said. “Now, [the committee] is blaming the haredim for the measles. It is too bad that a meeting with national importance has stooped to a blame-fest.”The Health Ministry claims that immunization rates in Israel are among the highest in the world, despite the current measles outbreak.The Health Ministry requires children by the age of one to be vaccinated against measles and other contagious diseases, however, mostly due to negligence, parents do not follow the law.An estimated 500 to 600 children from four schools have not been vaccinated in Pardess Hanna in the Haifa district, according to a previous report in Israel Hayom. The Health Ministry has not held a significant follow-up with the communities to address the problem until last November, even though the measles outbreak has been prevalent for the past few months.The Health Ministry has since shown their inability to contain the outbreak within Israel’s affected communities, and at the moment there have been 2,000 reported cases of Israelis who have contracted measles during the last few months, according to Israel Hayom.The Health Ministry has not held any informational seminars to encourage these parents to immunize their children, and even though the Health Ministry offers to pay for these services, the parents still decline them just the same, according to Israel Hayom.“It’s really tragic how for years the Health Ministry has hardly done anything to inform the parents within these schools, who refuse to vaccinate their children and are not privy to public awareness and the encouragement of immunization,” a senior Health Ministry official told Israel Hayom. “In the center of the country, where a severe measles problem has already been discovered, the Ministry of Health has not done anything substantial to gain effective control over the area in years, it seems.”However, the Health Ministry claims that immunization rates in Israel are among the highest in the world, despite the current measles outbreak.“Israel Hayom’s health commentator chooses to interpret the reality in isolation from the data, and the rates of immunization in Israel are the highest in the world, thanks to the ministry’s long-standing activities,” the Health Ministry said in response to data published by Israel Hayom. “To wonder about the irrelevant motives of the commentator, and the latest outbreak was the result of outbreaks abroad and populations not registered within the Ministry of the Interior, so, therefore, the health system has no access to them. Nevertheless, the ministry carried out unprecedented measures and increased the rate of immunization. We are proud of the team and the ministry for their impressive recruitment.”The Health Ministry requires children by the age of one year to be vaccinated for measles and other contagious diseases, however, mostly due to religious beliefs parents do not follow this law. School principals also hold no formal authority in enforcing health safety in and around schoolyards.While the outbreak continues to grow, the Health Ministry will be forced to change their strategy toward these communities in the near future – implicating and administrating more successful, informative and persuasive campaigns without ignoring affected communities.
Tzvi Joffre and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
Vaccine skepticism has taken off in other insular communities as well such as the close-knit Somalian-American community of Minnesota where measles cases have skyrocketed due to the false claim it can cause autism.
The rumor had its roots with Andrew Wakefield, a former British doctor whose now debunked 1998 research paper drew a connection between the MMR vaccine and the developmental disability. His papers have since been withdrawn and retracted and his medical license revoked.
Tzvi Joffre and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.