By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
Just recently, two pregnant women in Brooklyn were found to have the measles with the disease hitting a shocking 390 victims in New York City alone. While many debate the topic of vaccines, there is a group of victims that cannot speak up on the topic: babies and unborn children. The primary risk antivaxxers pose, is to pregnant women’s health, and newborns.
True, there are other groups of people who are affected by the reckless decision to not vaccinate. People who are immunocompromised, those who did not have a booster vaccine recently enough, and others, those who cannot speak for themselves are most at risk. Measles can cause pregnant women to either lose their pregnancy or for the baby to be born with major health problems such as deafness or other major health problems. This is not a kumbaya situation where we can say:” well, why don’t we just agree to disagree”, this is a situation where a group is placing another group at direct risk. Intentions do not matter here. It is one group, risking the lives of others who are defenseless with science being very one sided on the matter.
Sure, I have seen and heard the arguments of the antivaxxers; the distrust in big pharma, the anecdotal-hearsay “evidence”, and the desire to do things the “natural” way. I am not going to debate those. It is not for me to debate those. I am not a medical doctor. I have not dedicated 12 years of my life— or more— to study the human body, disease-prevention, and medicine. My wife, her mother, my aunt, and millions of others, have done so. Without any vested financial interest in this topic, they will tell you: MMR vaccines save lives. It’s not just them, the overwhelmingly vast majority of doctors will tell you the same. Period. Nothing more to it. Sure, can you find 0.001% of doctors who say vaccines are terrible probably. You can find that percent of engineers telling you never to get on a bridge or an airplane.
Living in New York City, I am surrounded by bridges and tunnels. Whether it is the beautiful George Washington Bridge, the illuminated Lincoln Tunnel, the Triboro bridge, or the Verrazano Bridge, I deeply appreciate them all. They allow me to come in and out of my home island of Manhattan, plus minus the inevitable traffic. I have yet to have seen a car pull over, the driver look at the bridge and deem it unsafe, turn around and leave. Definitely not someone with a degree in music or philosophy. And yet, when it comes to measles and vaccines, there is suddenly a “debate”. Anyone is welcome to way in. Risking the lives and health of others, antivaxxers, shy away from no argument. While the majority are happy to argue back, silent lives are being lost and destroyed, and unthinkable damage is being done.
Having on the one hand people who have dedicated their lives and careers to the study of medicine tell me how vaccines save lives and how lack thereof endangers the lives of others, while others with no medical backgrounds (sorry, some did have a degree in natural nutrition, psychotherapy, and other “experts” who were happy to way in on life-threatening issues) share something they saw once on Facebook, made judgment pretty easy.
For anyone to be so callous as to endanger the lives of babies, to destroy viable pregnancies, to maim and injure innocent children, to inflict developmental disabilities on children who should have had every opportunity in the world open to them, is not “another side of the argument”, it is an unforgivable sin.
As we mark on Passover our Exodus from Egypt and redemption from a Paroh who was on a mission to bring death upon the babies of the Israelites, let us counter that with the celebration of life, take all life-affirming measures recommended by health professionals, and may we all be blessed with the blessings of Shifra and Puah who saved the children of Israel. Right after Pesach as we begin saying slichos for Bahab, we will say a special prayer for illnesses that strike children. Diglei Am…hatzel minegef ve’al yi’hyu leshisuf”. The flags of our people, the dear children, please save from an epidemic so that they not be slain. Never did I think we would have to implore our own neighbors and friends with this prayer, but I ask you today to ask everyone you know, “Hatzel Minegef”, save them from an epidemic. Let’s make sure we reach %100 vaccination rates so that there are no more silent victims of measles, and that everyone see happy, healthy, and ehrliche children—doros yeshorim u’mevorachim.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, teacher, and bipartisanship activist. His recent TEDx talk The High Price of Political Polarization focused on the impact polarization has on society. He lives with his wife in New York City.