Miriam believed her niece was safe from measles.
At five months, the baby was too young for the first of the two CDR-recommended MMR vaccines (measles, mumps, and rubella). Miriam (who asked that her last name not be given to protect her family's privacy) knew about the measles outbreak that had plagued her congregation, a Hasidic enclave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, since last fall.
Since December, however, Religious Day Schools in the area had been ordered by the New York Department of Health to prevent unvaccinated students from attending to keep the outbreak under control. Miriam and her sister assumed that the five-month-old is safe in her daycare center, where she shares a school.
They were wrong. Within days, the baby got a fever. On Sunday, the baby had a rash from head to toe. In the last week, she has almost always had a cough, runny nose and other flu-like symptoms.
"You really feel helpless when a five month old patient is ill," said Miriam. "That's why it was so scary."
Miriam's niece was not the only affected child. Last Thursday, the Department of Health identified 25 more cases of measles in the Orthodox Jewish community in the district. The total number of cases is now 1
And while many day religious schools called yeshivas are in line with the Ministry of Health's rules for unvaccinated students, at least six do not. One of them, Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov Pupa of Williamsburg, has been linked with at least 42 cases of measles after allowing an unvaccinated student with measles to attend class (Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov Pupa is now following the rules of the Ministry of Health) New York Times reported earlier this month.)
The other five came under fire last Thursday for disregarding the DOH and taking in unvaccinated children.
"As a city doctor and pediatrician I am very concerned that children without a measles vaccine have an unnecessary risk of having serious and potentially fatal measles-related symptoms," Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in the statement. "The outbreak is not over and we will see more cases as long as unvaccinated students are not properly excluded from school."
The health department said on Thursday that the five Yeshivas would have to exclude the unvaccinated students or start receiving violations and fines.
The increase in anti-vaxxing may be due to the recent increase in measles cases. Last week, Gothamist reported that Hasid parents received anti-vaccine leaflets and dialed into vaccine conference calls organized by a group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children's Health or PEACH.
It is unclear how many were seen in Williamsburg PEACHs messaging, community members say they have heard the vaccine feelings first-hand.
"People do not think measles is a big deal," said Miriam. "We did not know how bad it is."
"What's wrong with measles?" A mother who refused to give her name said to The Daily Beast. "It's a teething problem. It goes past you. She added that more and more mothers in the community were worried about the negative effects of vaccines.
" What's wrong with measles? It is a childhood illness. It goes past you. "
– Anonymous mother
Community members and experts say that while there is a subset of the population, their children are not vaccinated because of false information about the dangers of vaccines Majority of parents actually have their children vaccinated.
"I vaccinate my kids, and I'm in favor of it," said Molly, who asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy. She said vaccination at her children's private school was mandatory.
Sol Feuerwerker, a medical student who grew up in the Hasidic community in Williamsburg, said that the Hasidic parents do not always receive as much science education as parents who attended secular schools, they are not suspicious of modern medicine.
"They are very healthy and pro-medical," he said. "They really seek the highest quality care for their families and communities."
Rabbi Asher Bush, who has written extensively on vaccinations and Jewish law, said that he has the anti-vaccine sentiment not to do with the Hasidic Jews beliefs.
"This is not a religious issue," he said, adding that anti-Vaxxer exists in secular communities around the world.
However, the experts agreed that the establishment of the Hasidic community of Williamsburg could make it even more vulnerable to outbreaks. Parishioners usually have large families, and children play, learn and talk in confined spaces. Some Hasidic Jews also travel to Israel, where measles breaks out.
" It's hard to distinguish between the edge and the real science without anyone in your world helping you lead them. You have to take the word of the experts for yourself. "
– Frieda Vizel
In addition to this extraordinary contagiousness of measles, an infected person, according to the CDC, can infect up to 90 percent of the vulnerable people they come in contact with – and you have that, What Fireworks called "a perfect storm".
Frieda Vizel, who grew up from Chassidic and is now conducting visits to the Williamsburg Enclave for curious travelers, said that very few doctors come within the Hasidic community.
"It's hard to distinguish between the edge and the real science without anyone in your world helping you to guide you," she said. "You have to take the word of the experts for yourself."
Health officials and providers acknowledge this, and they work closely with community groups to publicize the vaccine. The Ministry of Health worked with Chevra Hatzalah, the Jewish Volunteer Rescue Corps, to make announcements in Jewish newspapers urging parents to vaccinate their children. Local paediatricians have set up separate waiting rooms for measles patients and added signs and voicemail messages instructing parents to inform staff before inviting infectious children.
"People are taking it more seriously now," said Beatrice Delgado of Williamsburg Pediatrics, a provider serving the neighborhood Hasidic community.
Jay Begun, founder of Kindercare Pediatrics in Williamsburg and an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai, said his practice only needs potential measles patients after hours to reduce the risk of the infection spreading. According to the CDC, measles can live in a room for up to two hours after leaving the infected person. Dr. Begun added that he and other local pediatricians had also begun to administer MMR vaccines on an accelerated schedule.
Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn says his group is giving parents Yiddish-language presentations on the importance of MMR vaccination.
" That [the MMR vaccine] was her birthday present. "
"We make public dissemination a familiar voice in their own language," said Niederman. "The government knows that we have an open door, and the community knows that we will not be leading it in the wrong direction, so listen to us."
Niederman also said that the UJO offers meetings with Yeshivas, to help them comply with orders from the DOH.
The Yeshivas mentioned in the DOH statement either rejected a comment or did not return comment requests. At the time of writing, the Ministry of Health had not returned any requests for comment.
Miriam's niece is recovering, Miriam said, and since all other family members have been vaccinated, the disease has not spread. For her own children, Miriam took her youngest child for vaccination as soon as she reached the 6-month mark – the minimum age for the early supplemental dose of the MMR vaccine recommended for members of the Orthodox Jewish community at the end of February.
"That was her birthday present," she said.