New York’s measles outbreak puts vaccination rules on the spot

SIGNS WARNING people to stay away if they have fever and rash are posted at medical practices and pharmacies in parts of Brooklyn, a borough of New York City where health authorities have struggled to stop a measles outbreak that began in October. More than 320 people have contracted the disease so far and new cases show no sign of abating. With outbreaks going on in several other states, measles cases in America this year are on track to reach the highest number since 1994.

Most cases in Brooklyn have been in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave, where many parents have refused to vaccinate their children. Pockets with vaccination rates lower than the 95% level that stops measles from spreading exist across America. But Brooklyn is densely populated and that has made the disease easier to spread. On a Sunday afternoon, playgrounds in a neighbourhood that has been the centre of the outbreak are so packed that there is hardly any space for children to run around. Large families are the norm among ultra-Orthodox Jews and their social life is largely confined within their community. The outbreak in Brooklyn began with an unvaccinated child who contracted measles on a visit to Israel.

There is no religious reason why Jews should not get the measles vaccine, says David Niederman, a rabbi in Brooklyn. Like him, most rabbis in the...

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