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Booster Shot for Jewish Values

Jewish teaching and public health agree: Vaccinate your kids. What should be done about the opt-outers?

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Josie recovers from her shot in the arm. (Marjorie Ingall)

Last week, we got an email, two printed letters, and a phone call from Josie’s public school, all informing us that unless she got a tetanus booster in the next six days, she would not be allowed to attend classes. I called the school in a panic: Josie had just turned 11 and hadn’t had her annual checkup yet. Too bad, I was told. Rules are rules. No shot, no school. I quickly called the pediatrician’s office, and they assured me that there were a couple of hours every day in which I could bring Josie in to see a nurse, and they’d provide all the paperwork I needed to prove my child was not a tetanus-laden disease vector. And so it came to pass. But I had to miss a morning of work, and Josie had to miss school, just so she could get inoculated at an arbitrary time the school had laid out instead of a month later at her scheduled checkup.

Compare this rigmarole to what goes on in private schools, including Jewish ones. They often allow kids to opt out of vaccines entirely. (Forty-eight states allow religious exemptions from vaccines, and 18 allow “philosophical” exemptions.) A recent survey found that at one Waldorf school in the Bay Area, 84 percent of students were unvaccinated. There have been increasing numbers of major measles outbreaks around the world, including in Orthodox communities. (The one thing a Mill Valley mama in Lululemon leggings and a Bnei Brak matron in shapeless layers and a headwrap may have in common is an aversion to inoculation. Well, that and a tendency to raise backyard chickens.) Measles cases in the United Kingdom have risen by a factor of 10 since 2010, and rates of measles and rubella in the United States are skyrocketing.

But other than a few neighborhoods, like Borough Park and Williamsburg—where parents tend to wait beyond the recommended 12-month window to vaccinate against the most virulent diseases, and where visitors from vaccine-averse ultra-Orthodox communities in Western Europe bring their germs with them to Shabbos dinner—New York City has by and large maintained its herd immunity. New York City, aka The Land of Fuggedaboudit, makes it very hard to opt out of childhood inoculations. A letter from your rabbi or lawyer assuring the Department of Education that your God is a needle-hating God is not sufficient evidence; to get a religious exemption, you have to write an essay explaining exactly how and why your religion forbids vaccines. Furthermore, says the department’s website, “please note that the Public Health Law does not authorize the granting of exemptions based upon personal, moral, secular, scientific, or philosophical beliefs,” Since we hadn’t asked for an exemption, Josie’s school was within its rights to say, effectively, “get a booster shot right now or get the hell out.”

Of course, this law is only enforceable if you send your kid to public school. My upstairs neighbors home-school, so they could choose to skip a variety of vaccines. Why? “We know when he’s sick,” the mom upstairs told the parenting site Babble. The dad, a psychiatrist, further explained that they felt the vaccination process is too stressful for an infant. “We were just building a rapport with him, a sense of trust,” he said. “We had no language to explain to him what was going on.” The wife clarified, “We intuited that it would be traumatic for him.” Another family, living 20 feet away from them, has a newborn; I haven’t been able to intuit whether that new baby (who gets her vaccines on the usual schedule, which means she had no immunity for months) has been traumatized by living two doors away from someone who could give her a potentially fatal disease.

Look, I have several friends who don’t vaccinate. Like my neighbors, they are well-educated people. I have tried to engage with them about why they’ve chosen this path. The standard rap is that parents who skip vaccines foolishly continue to believe the fully discredited study that ran in the medical journal The Lancet a few years ago saying that vaccines can cause autism. But my friends don’t necessarily believe that study. They do believe that no one fully understands how vaccines work, and that the shots can mess with developing immune systems and may be at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous. It doesn’t matter that my evidence comes from peer-reviewed, controlled studies and theirs from anecdotal stories or poorly constructed studies. They do not trust the medical establishment. And that’s that.

On Facebook, I often share news stories about the consequences of our falling herd immunity. My friends then call non-vaccinators selfish, dim-witted jerks. Occasionally a non-vaccinator friend slashes back, but usually the onslaught of opprobrium makes her flee for the soothing embrace of like-minded sites, where she can learn about making her own wool felt and the beauty of placenta.

It does frustrate me, because I’ve seen the consequences of not vaccinating firsthand. As I’ve written elsewhere, my father had polio. When he was 7, he spent six months in bed. He had to learn to walk again. He was left with a gnarled and withered leg and always had a limp.

But pile-ons and hectoring don’t work. “When [a pro-vaccine message] comes as an attack, all it does is increase resistance,” said Goldie Milgram, a rabbi who has written extensively about the Jewish perspective on vaccination. “In communities that may be more alternative—less mainstream Jews and more fringe Orthodox communities—parents are less likely to invest authority in government organizations or drug companies. And they’re not crazy; in the past, important data has been suppressed. Nothing is more precious to these people than their children—a large chunk of my family is ultra-Orthodox, and caring for children is maximal to them—but their sources of information may not be the ones we’d like them to be.”

So, how do we reach non-vaccinating parents where they live? “You respond with empathy,” said Milgram. “You offer respect and concern and consideration for where they’re coming from and then reflect on what kind of strategies to use to make parents aware that they’re putting their children and everyone else’s children at risk.” For the ultra-Orthodox, she said, “this means first you educate the poskim and the rabbis, and publish information in the local newspapers, and create a sequence of stagings in which to provide accurate information and let parents talk about it.”

The textual backup for the initiative is there. Judaism has a clear halachic defense of vaccination. Jewish ethicists have interpreted the words in Deuteronomy, “greatly guard your souls,” to mean we have a moral duty to protect ourselves and others from disease. Reb Nachman of Breslov, who died of tuberculosis in 1810, before there was a vaccine, wrote: “One must inoculate every baby against smallpox before one-fourth of the year, because if not, it is like spilling blood.” Scott Aaron, the community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning in Pennsylvania (and a rabbi who is also a lawyer!), said, “It boils down to an issue of pikuach nefesh, saving a life, which is a sacred commandment.” The Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, says, “It is a positive commandment to remove anything that could endanger life … and to guard yourself and guard your soul. Someone who does not remove that which is potentially dangerous will have set aside this positive mitzvah.”

Tapping into existing community values was exactly what two doctors in Pennsylvania did back in 2007 to increase vaccination compliance in Jewish schools in their area. Today, the schools require vaccines for admission. (If parents still want to opt out, they must get the OK from a state-approved primary healthcare provider, not just any doctor.) And indeed, disease rates have gone down. The physicians’ initiative came on the heels of a teshuvah in 2005 by the Conservative movement about whether a Solomon Schechter Day School could refuse entry to non-inoculated kids. (I interviewed Joseph Prouser, the author of the opinion, for The Forward a few years ago. The answer: Yes.)

But it may be harder to reach the crunchy types than the Orthodox. To defiant patchouli-scented opter-outers, the fact that authorities from all three of the major branches of Judaism have come out in favor of vaccination is irrelevant. To them, their individual liberties and free choice are far more important. “In Judaism, the idea of the community is sacred, but in America we sometimes struggle with the notion of the individual versus the community,” Aaron said. “Americans are very enamored of individual rights, but Jewish law doesn’t necessarily come down as often on the side of the individual as opposed to the community.” If your authority figure is an anti-vaccine blog network rather than a rebbe, you’re going to be harder to win over to the values and virtues of vaccination.

I have to remain hopeful that we’ll still win them over, though I don’t know how. However, the tenor of conversations I’ve been having with my anti-gun-control friends on Facebook in the wake of the horrid Newtown shooting has been inspiring. It’s been respectful. Even my friends who adore guns and have been hostile toward any sort of regulation in the past are now saying they’d be willing to consider an assault-weapons ban, or bans on huge ammo clips, or better background checks. They expressed disgust and dismay with the NRA’s statement last Friday that the solution to school shootings is more guns in schools. I hope it won’t take more deaths of innocents for this same mental shift to happen with vaccines. Regardless, it’s clear that hectoring and shaming are not strategies that work. We need to take a page from the Pennsylvania initiative and try modes of education that do. Yes, I was irked by my kid’s public school’s overzealous response to her lack of a booster shot. But I’ll take it as the cost of doing the business of saving lives.


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Actually Marjorie, If you did a simple pubmed search for “autism vaccines” you would get references to over 550 papers. There are over 170 for the mercury based vaccine preservative thimerosal and autism alone. If you read the papers where original data is generated, you would find that over 75% actually support the link.

    marjorie says:

    Thimerosal was removed completely from vaccines by 2003. If the preservative were indeed the culprit in causing autism, you’d expect to see a huge dip in autism rates after 2003, but this hasn’t happened.

      Re-check. They’re still using it (I read the labels…) Refused the Flu vaccine based on that.

        Daryl-Lynn Johnson says:

        I’m interested in which vaccines are still using thimerosal. According to the FDA one maker of DTaP has trace amounts of the preservative. Otherwise (other than some flu shots) no vaccine for children under 6 contains thimerosal. If the labels still say its in there, then I’d like to know about it!

          This chart will give you an idea of which vaccines contain thimerosol:

          Twylaa says:

          Ethyl mercury is a neurotoxin. Don’t be ridiculous. For example here is one study which found that:

          “Fig. 3A and B shows the dose response characteristics of triplicate cultures of the glioblastoma and neuroblastoma cells, respectively. In both cell lines,a progressive increase in cytotoxicity (decrease in viability) was observed when Thimerosal dose was progressively doubled from 2.5 mmol/L to 5, 10 and 20 mmol/L. Viability was reduced more than 50% in both cell lines with exposure to 10 mmol/L Thimerosaland less than 10% of cells survived a dose of 20 mmol/L.”

          Twylaa says:

          Here is a graphic representation by video of mercury and nerve cells:

          John T Mcf Mood says:

          Almost anything with mercury in it is a neurotoxin, as are the gases in your CFL lights, as they contain traces of mercury vapor for their fluorescence. I only use incandescent bulbs in my home. Having had a close relative wither and die from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (in Europe Motor Neuron Disease, in America Lou Gehrig’s Disease.),I avoid any neurotoxin like the plague.

          Watch some one wither and die over the period of a few short years due to (possibly) neurotoxins will likely scare even jj / nevilleross.

      Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

      Um…no it wasn’t. You can request a thimerisol free vaccine and sometimes it’s available, but it’s apparently more difficult to store, has a shorter shelf life and is more expensive.
      The majority of vaccines still contain thimerisol. Especially ones that are sent overseas.

      Twylaa says:

      “Mercury (Thimerosal) is still an ingredient in many vaccines”

      “Contrary to popular belief, mercury (thimerosal) has not been phased out of all vaccines used in the United States. According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, there are seven vaccines in use that still contain thimerosal as a preservative and an additional four which may contain mercury residue from the manufacturing process.”

      Ethyl mercury not toxic? “In the 1970s, ten babies died in a Toronto hospital after an antiseptic containing thimerosal (49.6 % ethyl mercury) was applied to their umbilical cord.”

      Of course the amount of mercury the ten babies in Toronto received was a lot higher than what is in a vaccine, but still, it is inaccurate to say that ethyl mercury is not toxic. There is ample scientific evidence of ethyl mercury’s toxic effects on cells from both the nervous system and immune system.

      Twylaa says:

      Thimerosal is A culprit – but not THE only culprit. We keep adding more shots to the schedule, and environmental mercury keeps increasing.

      And the most recent official CDC autism stats were for children who were eight years old in 2008 – born in 2000. Shots with thimerosal were not recalled, and existing stock continued to be used until they expired around 2002 to 2004.

      Plus, flu shots containing thimerosal were added to the schedule, and thimerosal is still used in the manufacturing of some vaccines but supposedly removed via a purification process which the FDA does not monitor after initial licensure of the vaccine – the manufacturers self-monitor.

      It’s amazing to me how many of the same people who say, “We don’t really know whether there has been an increase in autism – could just be better diagnosis – all the stats are uncertain” also say, “We know thimerosal isn’t the cause, because autism has continued to increase since it was removed.”

      Twylaa says:

      “Autism Rates Fall In At Least Two States: Both Alabama and Iowa have reported declines of autism incidence by about 20%. While these apparent drops must be studied further, it’s worth noting that Iowa was the first US state to ban thimerosal in vaccines.”

    Twylaa says:

    Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars). 2010;70(2):165-76.

    Sorting out the spinning of autism: heavy metals and the question of incidence.

    Desoto MC, Hitlan RT.


    Department of Psychology, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA.


    The reasons for the rise in autism prevalence are a subject of heated professional debate. Featuring a critical appraisal of some research used to question whether rising levels of autism are related to environmental exposure to toxins (Soden et al. 2007, Barbaresi et al. 2009, Thompson et al. 2007) we aim to evaluate the actual state of scientific knowledge. In addition, we surveyed the empirical research on the topic of autism and heavy metal toxins. In our opinion empirical investigations are finding support for a link with heavy metal toxins. The various causes that have led to the increase in autism diagnosis are likely multi-faceted, and understanding the causes is one of the most important health topics today. We argue that scientific research does not support rejecting the link between the neurodevelopmental disorder of autism and toxic exposures.

    PMID: 20628440 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free full text

I, and every other person I know, was vaccinated on the usual schedule. I am not denying that there is a link between vaccines and diseases/disorders like autism, but as a parent, to knowingly expose my child to something harmful seems neglectful.

Really? A bacon band-aid? Was that necessary?

    RS1961 says:

    Seriously? You read this provocative, interesting, timely article … and *that* was the sole take-away on which you chose to comment? It’s a BAND-AID, not the remains of a contraband BLT.

    I knew as soon as I saw that photo at the head of the article that someone would take exception to it; go figure that it would be the very first commenter. Geesh, are you sure that the cupcake-shaped band-aid portrays a kosher cupcake?

    Maybe it’s turkey bacon! You don’t know!

    Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

    I had to go back and look….WHERE can I find a bacon “adhesive strip” or the pickle one, for that matter. LOVE them!

Kerry Swartz says:

It’s still astonishing to me that we have to have this divide, let alone this discussion, in the 57th century.

themotherinlawskitchen says:

Vaccination has consistently raised questions for me, as a mother (who
was vaccinated in childhood) to two children under 3. Two of my
brother-in-laws are bio-medical scientists working on cures for diseases
and both have explained to me why vaccination is important, for the
community, from their own perspectives.

However, I’m constantly
confused by the evidence that I read, which I interpret as good-enough
reasons to both vaccinate and not vaccinate – the main one being the
increase of the diseases we specifically vaccinate against (measles
etc.) Take the recent whooping cough outbreak in the UK – the BBC
recently published this article (,
which, I hope, cites authentic research sources; it states:

theory is that the bacterium which causes the infection, Bordetella
pertussis, has mutated… Another idea is that tight control of whooping
cough is part
of the problem. Repeated infections of whooping cough used to naturally
boost people’s immune systems.”

do we continue to vaccinate, which could allow the disease to mutate
and therefore affect the efficacy of the vaccination for future
communities? Or do we risk not vaccinating and let our children get
poorly (as they all do anyway) so that their own natural immunities
build up? What about those chicken pox parties of days gone by? And are
we just going to keep inventing vaccinations for EVERYTHING that could
potentially harm us, as we have already with the influenza virus and the
winter diarrhea and sickness bug (currently being rolled-out in the
UK)? I’m just not sure this is the way our bodies are meant to

Another point I’d like to make is this: although many
tests have been conducted into the efficacy of all 25 or so
vaccinations a child in the UK has before the age of 2, there had in the
past been little to no tests conducted into what happens when these
vaccinations are administered together in the 5 or 6 shots a child gets
in one go. A hell of a lot for one little system. Until now – read (or
The conclusion points to the fact that, if vaccinating, a child should
have each shot individually to decrease the chances of adverse toxic
reactions from the vaccinations, which at worse can be (and have been) fatal.

line, my problem with vaccination (and public health in general) is
that it is a matter of community vs the self… Medicine cannot be
tailored for the individual but is instead available to protect society
as a whole. As parents, we need to continue to do what’s best for our
little ones as individual souls whilst thinking about how best they will
go into the great, wide world.

    I totally agree with your point about “one vaccination at a time”. I believe it is a tremendous overload for developing nervous systems to be able to handle the huge influx of toxins at one time. The other point: more boys than girls devcelop autism. Developmental psychologists – and probably pediatricians, and neurologists as well, can testify to the fact that boy’s neurological systems are “weaker” than girls’ from birth. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some type of interaction between a weaker neurological system, and being bombarded with a ton of viruses which have been cultured in a questionable medium, then having other foreign substances (e.g. mercury) added.

      nevilleross says:

      I think that you two ladies are futzing with your children’s health based on woo-woo, and that they will suffer as a result. Sad thing, but at least your kids will learn a painful lesson by not believing that ‘Mother/father knows best’ (provided that they survive what illnesses they will get by not taking their shots.)

        Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

        So nice to be insulted when expressing genuine concern and wanting to do the right things. That’s what immature morons do when they feel like they can’t “win” by convincing people to think like they do.

          nevilleross says:

          If one chooses to go against all common sense in matters of health (which seems to be the trend in North America these days) then one has to take their lumps when they’re called on their lack of it. Any way you slice it, this belief in not having shots (which most people in the Third World would be happy to get for their kids) is woo-woo-very stupid, foolish, and fatal woo-woo.

          John T Mcf Mood says:

          I’d give $5.00 to the charity of my choice in YOUR name if just once you didn’t use the IDIOTIC woo woo. Don’t think it will happen…

Hershl says:

I have practiced general medicine for over 20 years. Thirty percent of my patients are kids.

Every single case of autism in my practice, when a very careful history is taken, reveals a link to vaccination.

When I was young I was hospitalized after a vaccination. My father told me, They said you might not make it.

I support patients who do not want their kids vaccinated.

To do otherwise, is irresponsible.

    Benjamin says:

    A “link to vaccination” is somewhat vague (is there also a link to water consumption?), and you have to also analyze (A) your kids without autism and (B) all of your kids who got *no* vaccinations in order to have sufficient statistical information to determine that. Bayesian statistics!

    “when a very careful history is taken?” you mean like when you lead the witness?

    nevilleross says:

    Behold Hershl, the doctor of woo-woo.

      John T Mcf Mood says:

      Your woo woo is beginning to sound like the ubiquitous coo coo clock. Havre you such a limited vocabulary? Let mew guess public schools? Where they don’t teach you to think for yourself, or to think for that matter.

    Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

    Let’s not discuss the fact that the United States recognizes that people do suffer from vaccine injury and has created a special court to address the concerns of these people and their families. Yet, making physicians, healthcare workers and pharmaceutical companies blameless for vaccine injury, is suspiciously self-serving to the industry and in no way protects the public.

    John T Mcf Mood says:

    Kudos Dr. Hershl! My Dad, of blessed memory, would have agreed.

I’m concerned about a number of the comments here. If you are propagating potentially life-altering medical advice, please be decent enough to identify yourself and your full professional credentials.

Bob105, have you actually *personally* checked out all 170 of the papers you describe, finding *exactly* 75% that support a real link? How do you qualify a paper as supporting such a link. I’m a scientist. I looked. I didn’t see it. We need more information from you.

Hershl, your observations are particularly intriguing. Are you an MD? With which type of practice are you affiliated? I’m assuming you are not a pediatrician as only 30% of your patients are children. What’s a “very careful history”? Are you a trained geneticist? Epidemiologist? I assume you mean well, but please give us some credentials before frightened people start disregarding medical science and taking undue risks with their family’s and community’s health.

    TexasJay says:

    What kind of scientist are you?

    I’m with Texas Jay. What KIND of scientist are you? I offer only anecdotal information, but I observed it myself, and I don’t hide behind two letters instead of using my real name. I was raised by a Pediatrician and a Registered Nurse, and have done a great deal of personal study into the topic, in professional medical journals (my sister is an MD), and I have also studied a lot of non-medical journals..I am a retired police officer and computer technician.

    JJ you ask if others are MD’s, you ask if others have if the have *personally* studied each paper, yet you give no credentials, and offer up no information as to your medical licensure or in what state, where you went to medical school, or if you are a PHd. or an MD.. I at least give my real name, and state my observations are anecdotal. You sound like a wind bag Juris Doctor. (Just my Constitutionally protected opinion, not that of the management. Your mileage may vary,)

      I’m a biologist who does basic research, not an MD and certainly not a JD. It really doesn’t matter who I am. I’m not giving out specious information that might harm your children or your community. I am, however, questioning those who are.

        I question everything, and I DO MY OWN research. It would appear we agree on questioning but you seem to be in a different field and may not do much research on your own. I recommend it. Before you open mouth insert foot with someone who HAS done his homework.

          You jump to an awful lot of strange conclusions. Our conversation is over.

          I actually have my caps lock key disabled. I was using all caps for emphasis. Your research, while I am sure did some good in your field (regulation of gene expression), by your own admission had nothing to do with vaccinations or reactions thereto. And I normally don’t discuss things with people who don’t use their full name, or identify themselves. You hide, do hit and run, and when challenged, your qualifications are nearly non-existent or are in a totally (oh, sorry) TOTALLY different field..

          Ever seen a child in convulsion due to a vaccine reaction? I seriously doubt it. I hope you never have to see a child or grandchild who gets these reactions, I really do, and the children that grow up with autism and cannot live without constant care and are nearly unmanageable, all due to heavy metal poisoning via vaccines are very sad indeed.

          Come back when you have either anecdotal evidence or some facts. Good luck to you sir.

          nevilleross says:

          More woo-woo from a silly man that should know better. Oh well, at least all are not clods all of the time.

          John T Mcf Mood says:

          nevilleross, you are an equine (Equus lambei) posterior.

          I was raised by a pediatrician and an a registered nurse, both of whom were old school. I have a college education thanks to them.

          They agreed that babies need vaccination, but to do so immediately after birth is cruel. The mothers’ immunities stay with the baby well past the second well-baby checkup, so why do modern doctors insist on immediate vaccinations with dangerous preservatives? I have no idea.

          I know of one child who learned to write right handed. Then the child was vaccinated at about 6 years of age with Thimerosal containing vaccines, developed unexplained seizures (no lesions on the brain or head injuries), and after the seizures were treated and controlled, the child inexplicably became left handed, and stayed that way.

          The UK vaccinates at the second well-baby checkup. MUCH LOWER AUTISM RATES THERE. You’d have to be a fool not to draw the correct inference from that. And I think the AMA is full of fools.

          And your disparaging me as silly is just reinforcing my rather low opinion of you. Where do you get your low humor, Monty Python or some equally ridiculous source? “Woo woo” indeed. You’re an Equus lambei. (Look it up.)
          John T. McF.Mood

          nevilleross says:

          I don’t want to ‘look it up’-I just want to be not considered an ignorant moronic fool playing games with their child’s lives (or any child’s life) like you, just because you hate Big Pharma. Here’s something for you to look up instead;

          John T Mcf Mood says:

          I don’t hate big Pharma. I would like to see them regulated better. You make so many assumptions. The FDA trials are a laughing stock, with drug companies regulating their OWN TRIALS… Why don’t we let criminals regulate their trials? There’s a darned good reason we don’t. We should not let drug companies run their own clinical trials, or even pay for them. No influence at all should be able to be had. But there is.

          Your site, I looked it up, and was not terribly impressed.

          At least admit that Dr. Edward Jenner used anecdotal evidence when he noticed milkmaids who had gotten cowpox seemed immune to smallpox… He’s often called the father of modern immunology. Observation and recreating results made the day for curing smallpox….

Argaman says:

Thank you for this article – it’s good to see a rational, science-based article on the need for vaccinations in Tablet.

    Twylaa says:

    This article isn’t science based. It basically says, “Jist git yur durned vaccines!”

    The author thinks that “greatly guard your souls” is an instruction to be vaccinated. That’s a pretty far stretch, especially since vaccines didn’t even exist when Deuteronomy was written, and vaccines don’t do anything for the soul – should we get vaccinated before dying to increase our chances of going to heaven?

    Her father had polio. Does this mean it is safe to give two dozen vaccines during the first two years of life, regardless of factors such as their family medical histories? Are all the diseases we vaccinate against as dangerous, prevalent, and communicable as polio was in the 1950’s? She has seen for herself her father’s harm from polio. What about those who have seen for themselves their children’s harm from vaccines? That is completely “anecdotal” and so discounted as hysteria, hallucination, or coincidence?

    She says her child needed a tetanus vaccine “to prove my child was not a tetanus-laden disease vector”. Per the CDC, “Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. Tetanus bacteria are everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust and manure… The bacteria can get into the body through broken skin, usually through injuries from contaminated objects.”

    Per many sources including WHO, “Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person.”

    Also, re: “who died of tuberculosis in 1810, before there was a vaccine” – we don’t even vaccinate against TB in the U.S.

    Really, if you want to have a holier-than-thou attitude towards the “crunchy… defiant patchouli-scented opter-outers”, try to get your facts straight.

RS1961 says:

To those who want to rely on my child’s vaccinations to protect their own unvaccinated children from life-threatening diseases … what unmitigated chutzpah you have! It’s bad enough that there are still so many parents who are willing to believe in “scientific” findings that have been unmasked as faulty; it’s even worse that you so complacently rely on those of us who ARE responsible parents to help hedge your bets. The increasing reliance of sub-groups within our population upon herd immunity is one reason that serious diseases we believed were virtually eradicated are making a comeback.

Parents who refuse to vaccinate according to even the most conservative of vaccination schedules should homeschool rather than put the rest of their children’s peers, teachers, and teachers’ families (including the unborn children of pregnant teachers) at risk; in an ideal world – okay, *my* ideal world – it would be possible for vaccinating families to choose not to intermingle with the families of those who willingly choose not to vaccinate. If you want to play Russian Roulette with your child’s health in this manner, I suppose that is, tragically, your right. But your rights to parental autonomy should end where my own child’s rights to safety and a healthy environment begin.

To the physician who commented below: Correlation does not necessarily confer causation. In the absence of properly-conducted study, your assertion that “all of your pediatric patients who have autism have been vaccinated” is anecdotal at best, and most likely meaningless. As someone else asked, what percentage of your autistic PEDs patients were not vaccinated? What percentage of your vaccinated PEDs patients are also autistic? If all of your autistic PEDs patients happened to have blue eyes, would you likewise maintain without additional research that the gene that causes kids to be blue-eyed also causes autism?

Thanks for a terrific article, Marjorie. And, thanks to Tablet for the inclusion of this well-reasoned, well-researched article that is grounded in modern science yet also conveys a classic Jewish sensibility. Keep ‘em coming, please!

    Re: the careful histories being taken…. I believe the reports are indicating that the children are totally normal before the onset of the autistic symptoms AFTER they have been vaccinated. One of the US senators was on TV a few weeks ago, indicating this was the case with his own grandchild.

      “you believe the reports are indicating?” One senator on TV? Was it the same senator who said women can’t get pregnant if they get raped? Sorry, that’s not information, that’s gossip.

        John T Mcf Mood says:

        madfoot, your statement is specious! You obfuscate by claiming it was the same senator who was woefully uninformed about biology. I’m willing to bet it WASN’T.
        That would be anecdotal evidence, you can track down which senator said it and verify it. Rumors, not so much.

        Twylaa says:

        It was actually a congressman, and not the person who made those comments about rape.

        How you all can so confidently dismiss the thousands of reports of vaccine induced autism is beyond me.

        It’s not just one senator on TV.

I am a psychologist who had her kids vaccinated at the appropriate ages in their early years (they are now 23 and 26 years old). I am VERY positive about the need for and utility of vaccinations for our children and society. HOWEVER, in the last 20+ years we have been getting more of our items – including drugs – from other countries, including China. Call me paranoid, but I believe that the way vaccines are produced now may not have the same quality controls (i.e. for the medium the viruses are grown in) as we did 20 years ago. The British Lancet is a well respected medical journal, which is free of the drug lobby so influential in our country. Like any other business that has moved aspects of production to China, from a business perspective the companies save tons of money having their products produced in China. China has a history of lax standards even for its own babies. Remember the infant formula with the substance that caused infant deaths there?

My daughter now has a baby, and I have to say, I am very concerned about the vaccines at this time. The incidence of autism has skyrocketed over the last 15 years. No one has an answer as to the cause of this, and it is difficult to design studies to prove anything in this regard. You can’t assign one group of children to get vaccines, another not, and see what the comparable incidences of autism are. We live in times that are more influenced by greed when it comes to drugs. I believe we are best to be cautious, and make sure we know where the vaccines were cultured and packaged. A quality control sticker from another country isn’t good enough for me these days – and it shouldn’t be good enough for anyone else. I have told my daughter to ask for more information about where the vaccines my grandson will be receiving his from, and I believe all of us should be more vigilant, and do the same!

    The incidence of autism has skyrocketed? Or we have become better at identifying it in the first place?
    If it is the former, what connection can you make between vaccinations and autism? There are MANY incredibly damaging environmental factors that are having a proven impact on our children: lead poisoning, flame-resistant chemicals that are proven carcinogens, pollution galore. And you’re going to blame vaccinations, and put your grandchild at risk on the basis of your musings? Really?

      Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

      The benchmarks for diagnosing autism have not changed in 30 years. What has changed is the vaccination schedule. The idea that we are “better” at diagnosing children as having autism than we were 30 years ago, is a fallacy.

      While I would suspect environmental factors as being the culprit in this puzzle, that would lend itself to the thought that autism would naturally occur more often in places that would have more pollution, like cities, yet the rate of autism is the pretty much even throughout the US. Kids in rural areas are just as likely to be diagnosed as kids in the inner cities.

The choice to vaccinate o not vaccinate is, and should remain the choice of the parents of the children. What happened to free will? Your government mandating vaccinations Is the government well versed in medicine? Do lawmakers have medical degrees? (For the most part they have JD (Juris Doctor) and this’s it.)

If you don;’t want to vaccinate your child, and you see no significant risk of her or him being exposed to some virulent disease, don’t! Don’t however, expect to get your kid into the Government run school. Home school. Until hey eliminate Mercury Thimerosol as a preservative in most vaccines, I won’t allow my kids or my grands to be vaccinated. Why use salt of a VERY toxic heavy metal as a preservative? Since they started using it, the cases of Autism have STEADILY CLIMBED. And no one in the government seems to see the correlation, nor does the drub lobby, because they don’t want to admit liability. (Zaydie to a wonderful yet autistic grand-child.And Dad to a son who AFTER Mercury Thimerosal preserved vaccination had a severe reaction including convulsions and many other symptoms went inexplicably from being right handed to left handed).

    Carny says:

    All of the vaccines commonly given to children under 6 have been available in thimerosal-free versions for more than a decade. There is a table on the FDA’s “Vaccine Safety and Availability” web page if you want to know which brands may contain trace amounts and which are thimerosal-free. I’m very sorry about your son’s experience, but concerns about mercury are no longer a reasonable excuse for avoiding vaccines.

      John T Mcf Mood says:

      A: Anecdotal evidence is dismissed by many because it’s not ‘scientific’.

      B: I disagree with ANY injections for infants until after their second well-baby checkup. If the mother Is not breast feeding, first well-baby checkup.

      C: Thank you for the additional information you gave with is WAY better than the argumentative, insulting, and asinine bovine excrement spewed by jj / nevilleross.

      I appreciate a well thought out discussion much more so than people who go “woo woo” all the time and have no substantive research or personal experience to base their claims on.

      Best regards,

      John T. McF. Mood

    nevilleross says:

    Are you still going to practice woo-woo? Or are you going to practice sense instead?

      Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

      Insulting statements are an interesting tactic when you disagree with someone. **Yawn**
      How grown-up and mature.

        nevilleross says:

        Insulting intelligence with unscientific bullcrap is prompting the only response I can think of at the moment when playing with the lives of children by people that should know better by virtue of being older and supposedly more mature.

          Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

          Says the one who hides behind anonymity and has probably never had to see their child or anyone else’s child vaccine injured. It does happen, and it happens a lot. To dive in fool hardy from one epidemic to another is counter productive. You don’t have to be an idiot to figure that one out.
          And at least I have the nuts to be counted for what I am saying…something your coward mind can’t seem to grasp.

          nevilleross says:

          FYI, my name is Neville Ross, that’s just the way Disqus chose to depict it-my name isn’t the topic of discussion here, it’s you and other stupid people playing with children’s lives that is (and should be) the topic of discussion. And no, I’m sorry, but you have no guts of any kind, you’re just a believer in unscientific woo-woo doing what I said above. It’s too bad that your kid’s lives are the ones being destroyed instead of your own, but I guess that comes from not having much of an education or common sense.

          nevilleross says:

          FYI, my name is Neville Ross, that’s just the way Disqus chose to depict it-my name isn’t the topic of discussion here, it’s you and other stupid people playing with children’s lives that is (and should be) the topic of discussion. And no, I’m sorry, but you have no guts of any kind, you’re just a believer in unscientific woo-woo doing what I said above. It’s too bad that your kid’s lives are the ones being destroyed instead of your own, but I guess that comes from not having much of an education or common sense.

          John T Mcf Mood says:

          You deny you used to use the nom de plume “JJ”? Your writing style and insults…

          Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

          Wow. You assume a lot.
          I am destroying no one’s life, nor am I ignorant or gutless. Honest to God, if you knew me in the slightest, ‘gutless’ is absolutely NOT an adjective you would use.
          But then, that is your M.O. to accuse and insult without knowing diddly squat.
          Yawn….you’re nothing but an insufferable bore.

          John T Mcf Mood says:

          nevilleross seems to be just the kind of parroting scientist that would vaccinate his own child and watch him convulse and then scratch his head, even with all the various studies and anecdotal evidence in the world presented to him. He’s got a mind like a broken parachute, it won’t open.

          Kudos to you Resa. Think for yourself!

marjorie says:

There is no thimerosal in routine children’s vaccines. Here’s the CDC statement: Let’s leave aside the fact the study in the Lancet, the one seemingly credible one, about thimerosal causing autism, has been retracted, and that there are no peer-reviewed well-designed studies showing a link between thimerosal and autism.

There is thimerosal in some formulations of the flu shot. It’s not in the commonly-used single-dose version or the in nasal spray, if you are still concerned.

disqus_Pb5yBxXpB8 says:

It’s also worth noting that we have a rational self-interest in the vaccinations of others: vaccines are not 100% effective. That means that someone who has been vaccinated might still succumb to an illness because he’s exposed to a pathogen carried by the child of some crunchy-granola parent who is skeptical of current disease prevention and therefore removes him from the protected pool. While much of modern medicine (and life in general) is rife with misinterpretation, error, and even downright fraud – sometimes – it is also sincerely directed at minimizing & mitigating the propagation & disabling impact of serious disease. While sincerity is not a sufficient reason to participate, it is a sufficient reason to respect the practitioners. And compelling research should be the force which produces universal participation. The REAL research, not quackery. Some of the most persuasive data derive from the dramatic reduction of disease among populations which have been vaccinated. When is the last time you saw a smallpox outbreak? An awful lot of well-meaning folks are boobs. As one can see among the commenters.

    Also — as was pointed out in the article — newborn babies who are too young to have yet been vaccinated need protection as well.

    But in the end, it comes down to this: if you do not believe in vaccination, is there ANY evidence that you could possibly imagine that would get you to change your mind, or is your belief non-falsifiable (and thus by definition non-scientific)? If you CAN imagine the possibility that such evidence could be produced, would you be willing to share what form it would need to take, so that we can discuss rationally whether such evidence exists?

rosela says:

Neither the Jewish day school nor the Jewish camp my children attend (not in New York) allow exemptions — except for actual medical reasons– to their vaccination requirements, which follow the state requirements. I am surprised that there are Jewish schools that do allow these exemptions, which do not seem to be in line with halachah.

I am a mother with 3 children who have all had the genetic misfortune of being born with auto-immune diseases. These diseases contraindicate vaccination (as does their egg allergy). While I would love to just give them a shot and know they are protected (even though they are not, as those espousing herd immunity admit), I can’t. Rather than vaccine companies reformulating their products to be SAFE for children like mine they have not only continued to release vaccines with known harmful side effects but have continued to bundle them in ever larger groups (who the hell decided an innoculation for 5 different diseases is ok for an infant? How does the body even begin to process that?) and increased the number of vaccinations given. I want safe vaccines! If you want those who don’t vaccinate to do so, appeal to the manufacturers. They are the ones who need to put forth a product that will protect us without harming us. In the meantime, I appeal to all ADULTS to be vaccinated. We are the ones exposing the children, and we are the ones who should be taking the risks; our bodies can handle the inoculations far better than our children. In the meantime, we do homeschool, keep an eye on CDC reports and avoid going out when there are any outbreaks or when my own guys are ill. We do what we can, and what is best for our children.

CorporateSellout says:

I am vaccinating my child let me say that upfront. However you do have to acknowledge the following

-There are civil rights issues with the government forcing a child (or anyone) to be vaccinated against their will.

-There is not a lot of profit in vaccines and poor oversight of their production. This leads to whole batches of bad/dangerous vaccines being distributed which can on occasion kill.

-The preservatives used in some vaccines can be dangerous to infants.

-Some vaccines like the yearly flu vaccines are statistically ineffective.

-There has been documented collusion between the medical industry and the
government/school boards to require children to require more
vaccinations then they need (see Guardisil for ex)

“In Judaism, the idea of the community is sacred, but in America we
sometimes struggle with the notion of the individual versus the
community,” Aaron said. “Americans are very enamored of individual
rights, but Jewish law doesn’t necessarily come down as often on the side of the individual as opposed to the community.”

We aren’t just enamored with the idea of individual rights, we have fought
and died to protect them. Individual rights were the foundation upon
which this country, our laws and our society were built. I find that
comment disrespectful and completely ignorant of what it is to be an

    Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

    Not much profit in vaccination???? Are you kidding? Vaccination is a HUGE profit maker. Don’t let the lies fool you. Pharmaceutical companies and their stockholders do not manufacture vaccines for the good of mankind or out of the goodness of their hearts. They manufacture them to make a profit, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing, as long as you don’t have the government mandating the purchase of your product by as many people as possible….
    Oh, wait….

    Let’s be honest about that fact.

      nevilleross says:

      Holy spit, I guess pushing nonsense doesn’t stop with you after all, does it? Hope that you don’t breed.

Wrong on two counts. While all of my children were vaccinated, mainly because it was more work to fight than to go along, not many of my generation were. We caught chicken pox, mumps, and measles. We caught the flu. Did we die? No. Did we need vaccinations, no. I have no problem with vaccinations for the killers and cripplers. Polio. Smallpox. But just as you don’t vaccinate against the Plague, or Dengue, it is unnecessary to vaccinate against everything. I gave up vaccinating against the flu when I left the military, and I haven’t had the flu since then. However, if you feel that exposure to an altered version of a virus will protect you from the virus, you should support conceiled carry of pistols to protect you from the nut with a rifle.

    Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

    I agree. I wouldn’t have much problem vaccinating for pertussis….if I could get it in a single dose. I really don’t see the necessity for vaccinating against diphtheria since I’m pretty sure that disease is all but eradicated and had a much higher occurrence before pasteurization of milk. I don’t want to vaccinated for chicken pox either. I’ve had it, 4 our of my 8 kids have it, and it was no big whoop.

    It’s not that I want my kids to be sick, but kids get sick…that’s life. I don’t want to be lied to that measles is a life threatening disease, when in truth the majority of people who are overall strong and healthy, get over measles just fine. Further, I cannot see how putting MY kid in danger, from an inferior vaccine made in China, is somehow morally superior than opting out. I have no obligation to anyone else’s kid beyond making sure mine wash their hands, cover their cough, and stay home when THEY are sick. If your kid is immune compromised, I am seriously sorry about your luck, but I’m not risking my own kids’ health for the sake of your kids’ ( and there is a risk….the CDC, FDA, and drug manufacturers all admit to that)

    Perhaps if vaccine manufacturers, the government, and vaccine proponents would LISTEN to people like me, instead of dismissing us as idiots, uninformed, anecdote lovers, backwards morons, who don’t really give a shit about our kids or anyone else, we might be able to discuss, but when people like the author of this article and a number of people commenting, operate as though hers/your opinions and “research” the only ones that really count, yeah, basically, “up yours”.

      nevilleross says:

      So risking your children’s life is super important, just to raise a finger to Big Bad Pharma? Sorry, sir/madame, but you are a backwards moron, an idiot, uninformed, and a lover of bogus anecdotes. says:

Polio used to kill or cripple hundreds of thousands of children. It was a dread disease, and it destroyed young lives. Children would spend their lives in misery, in iron lungs, as cripples.

Since the 1950’s when polio vaccines were developed and administered to most children in developed countries, polio cases have been alost completely eradicated. Most people today barely know what polio is.

What eliminated polio? Magic? A decree by god? Health food?

Or vaccinations?

    Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

    Or better sanitation? It’s interesting how other diseases also declined at the same time, at least in the Western world, when better sewage disposal, garbage disposal, and water treatment systems also started to more mainstream. It’s also interesting that these disease are still obviously present in 3rd world countries that lack this kind of sanitation, yet where world healthcare workers vaccinate all over the place. Hmmm….

      nevilleross says:

      Better sanitation won’t and doesn’t solve all problems alone, Mrs. Pittman-I would have thought that you would know that by now, but it seems that you don’t, thereby confirming what I’ve said about you above.

        Resa Forseth Wagner-Pittman says:

        I never claimed sanitation alone solved all the world’s ills, but when children don’t have to play in the street where raw sewage runs, it makes a significant difference in the management of disease.
        But then, for people like you, the only “proper management” comes from a needle and God knows what it delivers. Let’s ignore the obvious and simple like the cheap alternative of soap and water and line the pockets of pharmaceutical companies with mandated purchases and blind “trust.”

John Public says:

Excellent article. One small correction. There is no vaccine for TB. The test you take is to detect antibodies to TB. There is only treatment if you have it.

Ummm, tetanus cannot even be transferred from person to person! Pro-vacciners should really do more research before writing articles. :)

Twylaa says:

re: “rates of measles and rubella in the United States are skyrocketing”

According to the CDC page you linked to, in 2012 there were 5 cases of rubella and 63 cases of measles in the U.S. Call that skyrocketing?

In addition, according to the same CDC page, 92% of small children aged 19-35 months and 91% of teenagers age 13-17 are fully vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella.

This CDC table (link below) shows that in 2000 through 2004 the percent of 19-35 month children who had received at least one MMR vaccine was between 90% and 93%

This CDC table (link below) shows that from 1995 to 1999 the percent of 19-35 month children who had received at least one MMR vaccine was between 87.8% and 91.5%.

    Twylaa says:

    In other words, the CDC’s own stats don’t show “falling herd immunity”.

Twylaa says:

There are two big things that bother me about this article:
1) Not all vaccines are equal, and this is not only an issue of being for the entire current schedule as is or being against vaccines.
2) This is not only an issue of individual rights vs. community.


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Booster Shot for Jewish Values

Jewish teaching and public health agree: Vaccinate your kids. What should be done about the opt-outers?