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September 6, 2018 9:24 am

What Jewish Law Says About Vaccination

avatar by Dena Wimpfheimer

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Children watch camp counselors perform at Camp Moshava in Toronto, Canada. Photo: Ariel Marcus.

As children and parents welcome in a new school year, public attention is once again focused on questions over whether there is legal and ethical support for denying entrance to children who refuse to be vaccinated against highly dangerous and contagious diseases.

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, one of Israel’s most prominent ethicists and the Director of Jewish Ethics of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, says that sanctioning such children, primarily via their parents, is justified according to normative Jewish law. But he cautions that it should only be used as a last resort.

The “anti-vaxxers” movement — those who choose not to vaccinate their children — has intensified in recent years after a study, which has been widely disregarded by almost all mainstream medical professionals, claimed that vaccines could lead to an increased incidence of autism in children. The result is that a growing number of children are unvaccinated, and remain carriers of dangerous diseases, most prominently measles.

“There is no doubt that the measles is a highly contagious, dangerous condition that when left untreated can lead to severe public health crises,” Rabbi Cherlow says. “As such, and recognizing that modern technology has given us an easily accessible means to prevent its spread, parents of children who choose not to accept this option can be sanctioned and such punitive measures are in line with both ethical and halachic principles.”

“However,” Rabbi Cherlow cautions, “the reality is that such sanctions will likely have limited impact upon parents who are so swayed by incorrect information. Therefore, our efforts must first be focused on countering that misinformation and creating public awareness of how such parents are acting in a manner that is anti-social, irresponsible, and potentially deeply harmful to the good of the public.”

While unvaccinated children pose limited danger to themselves, they remain carriers of a disease that can be extremely dangerous for other children with compromised immune systems. Several recent cases in Israel have highlighted the dangers of unvaccinated children, including one such child who exposed others being treated in a pediatric oncology ward, where most of the patients have extremely compromised immune systems.

We should use non-aggressive measures to encourage all children to be vaccinated; but when those fail, harsher methods can sometimes be justified. Public safety must come first.

Dena Wimpfheimer is a PR/Media Relations consultant in Israel.

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