Israel's Health Ministry Failed to Discipline Doctors Who Advised Patients Not to Get Vaccinated

No steps were taken against the two doctors, who were found to have acted in a manner that posed a 'true risk' to Israelis

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A child getting a vaccination for measles in Jerusalem, November 11, 2007
A child getting a vaccination for measles in Jerusalem, November 11, 2007Credit: Daniel Bar-On

Action has yet to be taken against two doctors that were slated for disciplinary proceedings by a special committee at Israel's Health Ministry in view of their anti-vaccine activities, Haaretz has found.

Pediatrician and homeopath Dr. Chaim Rosenthal, and Dr. Nicole Ezrahi, his partner in a homeopathic and natural medicine clinic, were the only two to face further scrutiny, out of a group of 10 doctors summoned by the Health Ministry at the height of the measles crisis at the end of 2018.

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“As part of your work as a doctor you have made recommendations that go against the vaccination guidelines, even suggesting postponing vaccinations,” attorney Eyal Hacco, joint chairman of a Health Ministry committee formed to prevent the public from being misled, wrote to the summoned professionals. Giving such advice against professional practices in Israel and the rest of the world, “misleads the public and endangers health,” Hacco wrote, adding it could put children, adults and those around them at risk.

The ministry held a series of hearings with the doctors at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Hacco, Dr. Ehud Kaliner, then head of public health services, Dr. Hadar Elad, head of the health directorate, and the deputy head of the pharmacy department, Dr. Tal Lavi, published a comprehensive report in May. In some cases, the doctors gave explanations for their actions, vowing to stop any anti-vaccine activities; but the committee said further action should be taken against Rosenthal and Ezrahi.

"[I] am not among the ‘opponents of vaccination’ but adopt a ‘cautious’ attitude,” Dr. Rosenthal said after his talks with the committee in January, which he said were conducted in an atmosphere that was “germane and fair.”

“I am neither for nor against," he said, "but I think it is a very serious matter to inject babies with these substances, and that it requires caution. There is no truth here. There is study, and personal conviction. I share my knowledge and experience, and I stress in every lecture or web post that it does not conform to the ministry guidelines.

"I emphasize it is not backed up by research, but by my personal experience," Rosenthal added.

According to the report, Rosenthal himself said that over 5,000 parents received advice to avoid vaccinations from him and two other physicians. “The fact that this involves thousands of babies, and that these three doctors continue to dispense this advice shows the true risk to herd immunity,” the report says.

File photo: Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov present vaccines against measles in Jerusalem, November 2018. Credit: Health Ministry Spokesperson

The Health Ministry also said that Rosenthal posted materials on his website which he claimed to be scientific but were not. “The vaccine against measles is particularly suspected of causing autism,” was one of the claims. A post entitled “There are ways to reduce the harmful effects of vaccinations. Avoid giving vaccinations in a comprehensive fashion,” was later taken down.

Instead, Rosenthal recommended buying a homeopathic vaccine for measles, which the ministry committee called unprofessional, “seriously negligent advice," and a “violation of all the principles supposed to guide a reasonable doctor.”

Rosenthal's colleague Ezrahi also told the committee that she recommended postponing the vaccination until the nervous system was a bit more developed. When asked whether this advice was supported by medical knowledge, she said it was based on research – but could not cite any study that supported her claims. “Dr. Ezrahi provides negligent and incorrect advice concerning the vaccination plan for adults and children, as clearly seen from her publications, and her partial answers in the talk with her,” wrote the committee.

The committee recommended transferring both cases to the ministry’s disciplinary unit.

Five months have passed since the committee recommended launching the disciplinary process against the two doctors, but the Health Ministry has taken its time – and no clear reason has been provided for the delay – at a time when the ministry is making great efforts to convince the public to get vaccinated.

The ministry told Haaretz that "the vast majority of doctors [who advised against providing vaccinations] walked back their statements and stopped acting on the matter. There are proceedings going on against two doctors."