Rockland County, New York, has been really hit hard by the ongoing measles outbreak. However, that did not stop anti-vaxxer groups from conducting a rally in the area Monday evening, which was attended by hundreds of people, while most of them were ultra-Orthodox Jews.
A Jewish group based in Monsey, New York sponsored the “vaccine symposium.” Anti-vaxxers, including the attendees, cited religious beliefs and pseudoscience, and they claimed ineffectiveness of the vaccines.
In spite of the growing number of measles cases, which has reached a record high of 839 cases, 75 new cases were diagnosed in New York. According to the New York Times (NYT), attendees packed the ballroom where the rally was conducted. In the United States, measles was declared eliminated in 2000.
The rally’s speakers included Andrew Wakefield, who widely disproved studies linking the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine to autism actually helped spur the anti-vaccine movement. In 2010, his medical license was canceled after he was found guilty of child abuse and fraud.
According to the NYT, the measles epidemic in New York started in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in October after some unvaccinated children got sick with measles, which they contracted during a trip to Israel.
In October, Vox’s Julia Belluz reported, “Anti-vaccination rhetoric has taken hold for reasons that have nothing to do with religious doctrine. But the fact that some Orthodox Jews live outside the mainstream, avoid technology, and hold rabbinic opinion in high esteem may leave them particularly vulnerable to anti-vaxxers.”
In spite of the measles outbreaks across states, the rally showed the anti-vaccine movement is resilient. On Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered outside the New York state capital to protest against a proposed bill that would make vaccination mandatory and ban religious exemptions.
Social media platforms are trying to bring down on the anti-vaccination movement. For example, Twitter is launching new search tools to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation. Instagram has also blocked #Vaccinescauseautism, #VaccinesKill, #VaccinesHarm, etc., which spread misinformation.
One of the challenges in curtailing the anti-vaccination movement is fighting misinformation in insular or tight-knit communities. The rally conducted by anti-vaxxers on Monday has shown us how big that challenge is.
Pediatric professor of the University Of Washington School Of Medicine Douglas Opel told the Wall Street Journal, “In order to make headway with such groups, officials must approach them in a transparent and empathetic way.”