By Sarah Levine, BSN RN & Dr. Blima Marcus, DNP ANP-BC RN OCN
The regional measles outbreak has sparked major controversy within the Jewish community. Heavily-populated Jewish communities are seeing dozens of cases of the measles, and it’s only getting worse. Confirmed cases in Chicago occurred after a family traveled to Lakewood with a newly vaccinated child who didn’t yet have time to develop immunity. This child contracted the measles in New Jersey, returned to Illinois, and exposed as many as 80 children in a daycare.
Some may point to a variety of reasons as to why the measles epidemic is so concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities. This article will focus on the the biggest one: lack of education leaving people vulnerable to misinformed, devious, and outright propaganda efforts which attempt to paint vaccination as a dangerous and money-driven policy.
Anti-vaccination propaganda is led by uneducated and clearly biased Orthodox men and women in our communities. The Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, a national group of frum nurses, received many requests for information regarding vaccines and its safety. A group of 30 nurses, with varying professional degrees and credentials, formed a Vaccine Task Force. The goal of the task force is to examine where frum people were receiving their misguided vaccine information, what the content was, and to provide proper education and allow for question and answers on the topic of vaccines and its safety.
Our findings are both astounding, yet unsurprising. We learned that the Akeres Habayis hotline offers vaccine lectures delivered by ill-reputed anti-vaxx activists. One nurse called in and was appalled to hear vaccine information shared by a Binyomin Rothstein, a Maryland physician whose license was revoked after a decade of probation for practicing subpar medicine – including treating patients for illnesses such as pneumonia and heart attacks with injections of vitamins and injections of hydrogen peroxide.
Toni Bark, another frequent lecturer on this hotline, is a holistic practitioner who sells beauty products online. Bark was discussing the (nonexistent) link between vaccines and infant mortality rates.
The founders of Akeres Habayis also publish and distribute a propaganda pamphlet called the Vaccine Safety Handbook: P.E.A.C.H. Magazine – Parents Educated and Advocating for their Children’s Health. This comforting and benign sounding pamphlet is actually a collection of virulent propaganda against vaccines and the entire medical system. The Task Force received a copy and found it full of outright lies, misleading graphs, and inaccuracies. Quotes in this pamphlet are taken out of context, statistics are twisted and distorted, and most of the sources were found to be openly biased.
Furthermore, some of the information in the pamphlet has been taken word-for-word from anti-vaccination websites, implying that the distributors of the pamphlet made no efforts to vet or substantiate the information they regurgitate.
It truly is the blind leading the blind.
Another propaganda effort is the creation of WhatsApp groups disguised as “educational courses” which recruit participants to “learn about vaccines”. When an OJNA member attempted to join such a group, she was rejected due to her “preconceived biases.” When we questioned the qualifications of the administrators, we were told that they are “mothers with brains” who have done “hundreds of hours of research” and know how to read a study.
We beg to differ. Throwing around titles and credentials may seem arrogant, but higher education confers a degree of knowledge and experience not found in those without these rigorous educational requirements. Knowing how to read a study is key, and it takes years to learn how to do it properly. If you’re not familiar with hazard ratios, risk ratios of odds ratios, you don’t know what you’re reading. If you’re unfamiliar with p-values and correlation coefficients, you can’t full appreciate and understand what you’re reading. We listened to the hotline, we read the magazine, and we planted moles in the WhatsApp “course.”
Our focus and involvement have shown us that we found the exact same thing everywhere: almost all disputes against vaccinations are not fact based, not evidenced based, taken out of context, or incorrectly quoted. Not only did we dig into and find the false data provided by these propaganda efforts, but we have refutations and true answers to every lie and misleading sentence.
Based on science we understand how vaccinations work, we understand herd immunity to be just as important as receiving vaccinations, and we identified no correlation or causation between vaccines and either autism or SIDS. Based on science and research, we found there to be a very small percentage of side effects to the vaccine, but severe and sometimes fatal effects from non-vaccination.
We aren’t here to argue, and we aren’t here to make noise. We know there are skeptics and people who may disagree. We want you to ask questions, we want to hear what you have to say, and we want to do our best to answer the correct way – with evidence, with facts, with confidence. Ask us, and we will answer you.
Sincerely, The Nurses of the OJNA Vaccine