Israel's Deputy Health Minister Makes Baseless Claim on Arabs Spreading Measles

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File photo: Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman makes his way to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 25, 2018.
File photo: Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman makes his way to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 25, 2018.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Monday implied Israeli Arabs are spreading measles, contrary to fact.

During a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee on how the state was handling the measles outbreak, Litzman said, “Measles came to Israel from abroad, from people who were not vaccinated there. This infected populations in Israel that do not vaccinate, some in the Arab sector and some in the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] sector.

“In the Haredi sector we dealt with the problem; we got to rabbis and the matter was taken care of. With regard to the Arab sector, I must distinguish between the regulated communities and the unregulated communities. I’m prepared to send mobile units anywhere which is why I am calling on the MKs from the Arab sector to call on the Arab public to be vaccinated.”

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But Litzman’s remarks, which quickly became a headline on the Makor Rishon website (“Litzman: Measles coming primarily from the Arab sector”), do not correspond to reality. While in Haredi communities there are indeed lower-than-average rates of vaccination, vaccination rates among Arabs are actually very high. For example, in Nazareth and Iksal the vaccination rate for measles is 96.9 percent; in Taibeh, 96.5 percent and in Jaljuliya 95.9 percent. In comparison, the vaccination rate in Tel Aviv is only 92.5 percent; in Bnei Brak 92.8 percent; in Safed 93.7 percent and in Katzrin 88.9 percent.

Moreover, when it comes to the measles infection rate, Jews are getting measles at a far higher rate than Arabs, which testifies to the Arabs’ higher vaccination rate. According to the Health Ministry’s own data, of the 2,040 cases of measles reported to date, Jewish cities top the list. Jerusalem, (a mixed city), has had 874 cases, Beit Shemesh, 266 cases; Safed, 149; Bnei Brak, 97; Betar Ilit, 95; Tel Aviv, 52, Modi’in Ilit, 31, and so on.

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If one goes by Health Ministry districts, then the Jerusalem District ranks first with 1,304 cases, followed by Safed with 234; Tel Aviv with 171, and Petah Tikva with 95. In last place is the Nazareth district, with only one case.

Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, chairman of the Public Health Association of the Israel Medical Association, told Haaretz, “Coping with epidemics requires cultural sensitivity. The Arab population has been getting vaccinated at high rates for many years. As a result, there are almost no cases of measles in Arab communities.”

Litzman’s office responded by saying, “Deputy Health Minister Litzman made it clear several times that when it comes to health there is no difference between communities and that all Israeli citizens have an equal right to health services.

“Litzman’s remarks on the issue were aimed at communities where there is a problem with vaccinating due to a lack of manpower and medical staff, particularly in the south, and the need to offer medical services, like vaccinations, there as well. The deputy minister did not mean to say that the Arab sector supposedly doesn’t vaccinate. The deputy minister regrets if his remarks were not properly understood.”

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