Measles outbreak in NYC stokes anti-semitism

拳皇命运如何获取金币 It may sound unbelievable that a measles outbreak would take place in a city as modern as 21st century New York. This is after all a time when people in the developed world should worry more about being attacked by robots than by a preventable contagious disease that had been reined in since the 1960s when the vaccine called MMR (Measles, mumps, rubella) was invented. Yet, the city is now seeing its worst measles outbreak in decades. What may sound even more shocking is that the city government seems quite helpless in front of the epidemic. It cannot seem to counter the awfully wrong beliefs deeply embedded in some parents’ minds, especially as its hands are tied by the First Amendment, which also deals with religious freedom enshrined in the US constitution.

Measles cases have been rising across the US this year. By the end of May, 940 cases were diagnosed nationwide. New York is the epicenter with 843 cases found in the state and 535 in the city. The New York epidemic was triggered first in Rockland County in upper state New York last October. Then it quickly spread to New York City where the density of population accelerated the spread of the virus.

The patients in the city live in various places but most of them are from a few Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. And Rockland is also a county where Orthodox Jews are concentrated. Most were not vaccinated. An alarmed city government issued an emergency order on April 9 requiring people who live or work in four zip code areas to be administered MMR vaccines. People who did not comply received summons. Citywide, schools that allowed unvaccinated children to come to the classroom were closed until the violation was fixed. Nine school closures and 122 summonses later, the epidemic shows no sign of dying down.

The development of vaccines was accompanied by suspicion from the beginning. In the early 1890s, some parents in Boston began seeking doctor’s letters to get their children exempted from Massachusetts mandatory smallpox vaccination.

The MMR was stigmatized in 1990 when a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a research paper blaming the vaccine for autism and bowel disease. The research has long since been scrutinized and debunked by medical experts. The flawed research studied only 12 participants and had no control group to compare with. Wakefield has since been discredited as a doctor and is now an anti-vaccine activist. Yet, the scary message contained in his research has stuck in the minds of many worried parents.

To be sure, it is a legal requirement for schoolchildren to be vaccinated in New York as well as around the US and in many other countries in the world. But the law here has two exemptions – medical reasons and religious reasons. Both provide loopholes for skeptical parents to shelter. The religious exemption, for which the verification is relatively lenient, has been persistently misused.

Nationwide, there are 47 states with such waivers. In New York, a bill pending in the state legislature aims to repeal the religious exemption. But First Amendment concerns have so far halted its progress.

Simultaneously, a wave of anti-Semitism has been rising because of the measles fear, despite the fact that the majority of parents with school kids who haven’t been vaccinated are not Orthodox Jews, and other religions have also been used as a pretext to avoid vaccinations.

The story about public health stops here and now comes the more complicated and frustrating story about the war on information. The measles outbreak presents some fundamental challenges we are facing in the information era. People driven by fear are likely to hold unfounded and irrational beliefs, and there is plenty of information on the internet that they can draw on to support such hearsay. Debunking of a belief often means little to them, or worse, only reinforces their beliefs.

A wise comment that has often been attributed to late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan goes like this: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” But it doesn’t provide any immediate relief in the current situation. Facts often contradict one another, and therefore, can indeed be differentiated into “my facts” and “your facts.” Yet, the only way to get close to the truth is still to acquire as much factual information as possible, because only by doing so are you able to see which direction it is all pointing in.