More than 41,000 children and adults around the world have been infected with measles since the start of the year and at least 37 people in Europe have died from the disease, the World Health Organization announced this week.
Measles has reared its head in Israel too over the past few months. In July, dozens of children, some with a compromised immune system, were informed by the Health Ministry that they needed to receive measles shots after their possible exposure to a child from the Esh Kodesh outpost who had measles and was treated in the same hospital ward. A few months earlier, there was a measles outbreak in the Itamar settlement, leading the Health Ministry to threaten to impose fines on people who failed to get vaccinated. In June, there was another measles outbreak in the north, around Acre and Safed.
Measles is the most infectious disease in the world and can cause serious damage and even death. The latest outbreaks have reawakened calls to obligate people to vaccinate their children by enacting punitive measures for those who refuse to do so, rather than leaving the decision up to the individual.
Some are not waiting for legislation to pass: A network of private kindergartens in Ramat Hasharon has already announced that only parents who present a complete immunization record will be able to register their children there. The Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association is also calling on the health, education and welfare ministries, as well as the local authorities, to join the “Hagan Hamehusan” (“The Vaccinated Preschool”) initiative and make acceptance to preschool contingent upon presentation of a vaccination record booklet. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has announced that his ministry will consider implementing the program.
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Israel has achieved quite a high rate of vaccination that has remained stable over the years and created the “herd immunity” that is so crucial for the protection of the vulnerable and those with weakened immune systems. Currently, 98 percent of toddlers receive the measles vaccine and the 5-in-1 vaccine (pertussis, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and Hib). Nonetheless, concentrations of unvaccinated people endanger children and adults with weakened immune systems and toddlers who have yet to be vaccinated.
Making immunization a prerequisite for entering preschool is not without problems. Such a sanction could hurt children because of their parents’ actions and also fan the resistance, the feeling of coercion and the conspiracy theories of those who are anti-vaccine, paradoxically increasing their number. But it’s hard to accept a situation in which the decisions of a few endanger a large number of people. Although Section 19 of the Public Health Order has only been invoked twice before, the vaccination requirement for preschool should be gradually implemented. At the same time, education about the effectiveness and importance of vaccines should be increased.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.