Dick Hubert’s Worldview: You have every right to be freaked out by the measles epidemic
April 11, 2019 at 8:17 a.m.
What insight can we add to the measles crisis, except you either, as I do, think there’s a dangerous number of Americans who are scientifically illiterate, contemptuous of the harm failing to vaccinate visits upon others, and convinced there is a conspiracy against them lurking around every corner.
Or, if you’re targeted for non-vaccination in heavily Jewish Extreme Orthodox communities in Rockland County, New York, or New York City, you believe there’s an anti-Semitic flavor to the hostility of your non-Jewish neighbors for your failure to vaccinate, or if you’re not Jewish and refuse to vaccinate, you’re making preparations to leave Rockland County and head for the American wilderness (such a family was featured on HBO’s Vice News last week).
The measles news keeps cascading.
This past Tuesday morning, the Washington Post reported that “New York City…declared a public health emergency and ordered mandatory measles vaccinations amid an outbreak, becoming the latest national flashpoint over refusals to inoculate against dangerous diseases.”
At least 285 people have contracted measles in the city since September, and the order covers four zip codes in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood where the vast majority have originated, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said at a news conference.
The mandate orders all unvaccinated people in the area, including a concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews, to receive inoculations, including for children as young as six months old. Anyone who resists could be fined up to $1,000.
“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” said de Blasio. “The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested…the faster everyone heeds the order, the faster we can lift it.”
On Wednesday, the Westchester County Health Department announced that “measles has been confirmed in eight Westchester County children, six are siblings, and all are from Northern Westchester. None of the children attend public schools or childcare programs. The children range in age from six months to 14 years old.
The children, who were not vaccinated, appear to have been exposed to measles in Rockland County and Brooklyn where there have been ongoing outbreaks.”
At this writing, Rockland County Executive Ed Day’s order that non-vaccinated children are NOT allowed in indoor public places in the County is still halted by State Supreme Court Justice Rolph Thorsen. But Day is fighting back and saying unvaccinated children should not be allowed in any schools.
Judge Thorsen told Day to wait for a medical emergency before imposing his order.
Day replied, according to the Gannett Journal News: “One would think that seeing 42 exposures at a local hospital would garner the attention and judicial support it warrants and it is my view that waiting for a medical catastrophe is ill advised, particularly given the fact that we can see it coming."
Day said this as Nyack Montefiore Hospital reported last Friday that recent measles exposures included 11 children and four pregnant women. Those pregnant women could very well give birth to blind children if they are as unlucky as the late Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, whose youngest daughter, Marijke (or Christina), born in February 1947, suffered from clouded vision due to Juliana's having measles during the pregnancy. That was, of course, before there was a vaccine against measles. The tragedy potentially awaiting the four pregnant women in Nyack Hospital is totally avoidable.
The New York Times’ Science Writer Donald G. McNeil, Jr. reported health officials traced the Rockland measles outbreak to an annual Hasidic pilgrimage from Israel to the Ukraine, and the measles outbreak in New York and Rockland was traced, according to the Washington Post, “to a child who had not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and contracted the disease during a trip to Israel. ‘Since then, there have been additional people from Brooklyn and Queens who were unvaccinated and acquired measles while in Israel,’ according to the Health Department.”
According to McNeil: “Israel’s measles outbreak began in March 2018, apparently in a small Orthodox community in Tzfat, in the north, said Dr. Patrick M. O’Connor, leader of the rapid disease control team at the W.H.O.’s European office, which oversees Israel.
Resistance to vaccines was not the reason. Orthodox rabbis “have no issue with vaccination — it’s seen as a lifesaving good,” Dr. O’Connor said. And Israel’s chief health officer, Yaakov Litzman, is an Orthodox rabbi who grew up in Brooklyn; his ministry provides free vaccines.
“But there is a mismatch between Israel’s health system and the population it’s supposed to serve,” Dr. O’Connor added.
“The clinics offering vaccines were often not open on convenient days or couldn’t accommodate big groups. Orthodox families may include up to a dozen children and ensuring that all have had two measles shots on schedule can be difficult.”
That’s the charitable view.
My own experience with disease epidemics that vaccines can prevent but which certain adults insist is a conspiracy against their “free will” began the day our grand twins were born prematurely in Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Denver.
To the horror of the pediatricians caring for our grand twins, a whooping cough epidemic had broken out in the politically liberal city of Boulder, where to be an “anti-vaxxer” was socially encouraged. All staff and visitors to the hospital were ordered to vaccinate immediately if they had not already done so, and the pediatricians even started eliminating anti-vaxxer families from their patient rolls. “Either vaccinate or get out of our practice” was their order. And still we held our breaths in fear and worried every minute about the grand twins’ health.
I hadn’t been so rattled about spreading disease since the pre-polio vaccine days of my childhood, when I vividly remember my parents keeping me indoors and at home during a polio epidemic that roiled Eastern Massachusetts. The day the Salk and Sabin vaccines could be administered was a day of celebration.
The Boulder experience was a reminder that to be an “anti-vaxxer” was a political sin of both right and left, from New York’s Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and fellow liberals in Boulder to anti-vaxxers among right wing anti-government reactionaries hiding out in the woods of the Mountain States and elsewhere.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, in an interview on the measles epidemic conducted at the Anthony J. Posillipo Center in Rye Brook Mar. 30, even dropped the news to me that a well-known Westchester County State Assemblyman (I am leaving his name out to save him from political retribution for the moment) was a confirmed anti-vaxxer. (Contacted to confirm Latimer’s description of him, the Assemblyman now claims he is not an anti-vaxxer, and poor Latimer then claimed he never said anything to me on the subject. They’re both running for the hills.)
I know. I share your astonishment with Latimer’s. His point was: you never know where these primal vaccine fears will pop up next, and from whom.
In the meantime, please, if you haven’t vaccinated yourself, or your children, do it NOW. If you can’t afford to see a doctor, the County Health Department will take care of you. If you need further advice, contact the Westmore News for guidance on where you can get help.
And one thing about vaccines. They only really work if EVERYONE gets vaccinated. Health officials call it the “herd” effect. No excuses.
Dick Hubert, a retired television news producer-writer-reporter living in Rye Brook, has been honored with the Peabody Award, the DuPont Columbia Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award.
Editor’s Note: This column, written by Dick Hubert, represents his opinion and not that of this newspaper.