The Ministry of Health of Israel has launched an action plan to stop the outbreak of measles – imported by tourists or visitors according to the health authorities – which this year affects Israel in a particularly virulent manner. The rebound in the disease has put in the eye of the hurricane Jewish ultra-Orthodox religious communities, the most affected, especially in cities such as Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, by the refusal of religious of some branches Haredi to vaccinate their children. Precisely in one of these communities, the one of the Jerusalemite neighborhood of Meah Shearim, the first death by disease in the last 15 years, an 18 month old baby who had not been vaccinated.
According to the information provided by the Hebrew ministry, up to this Tuesday there were already 1,401 cases, more than half of them, 838, among the ultra-Orthodox population of Jerusalem. Last year there were only 33. Figures that were not remembered, for a decade (between 2007 and 2008 there were 1452 cases) and that have led the Israeli authorities to take emergency measures to contain the outbreak.
Among them, extend the vaccination campaign; keep open, even at night, the family health centers -Tipat Halav, in Hebrew- of the most affected neighborhoods; the sending to these neighborhoods of mobile vaccination units and restricting the entry of unvaccinated people in certain areas of hospitals such as the ICU, neonates or oncology. "The immunization rate has increased, but there are still schools in which the vaccination rate is 85%," Moshe Bar Shiman Tov, General Director of the Ministry of Health, acknowledged after the emergency meeting held on Monday to alleviate the crisis.
In Israel the first dose of measles vaccine it is usually put to the year but there are families that for religious reasons do not allow their babies to be vaccinated. The Government considered the possibility of lowering the age of vaccination at nine months, but, after consulting with experts, dismissed the proposal "because of the limited effectiveness of the vaccine at that age," according to the statement published by the Bar office. Shiman Tov after the meeting on Monday.
In the Share Zerek hospital and in her motherhood in the center of Jerusalem (Bikur Holim), the two reference medical centers used by the ultra-Orthodox in the Holy City -very popular for being respectful of their wishes not to vaccinate- the official mutism reigns around the outbreak of measles. According to the Hebrew press, in them, in the last two weeks, preventive treatment would have been provided to about a hundred newborns.
A rebound of the disease that, although it mainly affects the ultra-Orthodox environment – almost 40% of the population of Jerusalem – keeps many parents and those responsible for all kinds of public and private schools in the city in suspense. "The majority of our students are international and are vaccinated but we have already had a case, a local student," confirms Anthea Jones, the nurse in charge of the Anglican International School. "They have urged us to urgently vaccinate students who are not. Despite being a private school, from the Ministry we have offered reinforcement of nurses and free vaccines to do it as soon as possible, "explains Jones.
In schools with higher rates of measles -generally Jewish ultrareligious colleges where the vaccination rate does not reach 50 %- in addition to immediate vaccination, all those who may have had contact with a sick person are urged by the health authorities to remain 21 days at home before returning to class, to prevent the spread of the disease.
The municipality of Jerusalem has set up a coordination team to vaccinate and refer the sick. An emergency number has also been set up to inform the citizens and a circular has been passed to the Yeshivas – Talmudic and Torah centers – to urge all of their students to attend vaccination.
Some parliamentarians of the Knesset prepare a draft law to design a national strategy to tackle the problem.