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Mass vaccinations in UK, Israel as measles scare continues

A single-dose of the measles-mumps-rubella virus vaccine live, or MMR vaccine. The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR, is 99 percent effective at preventing measles, which spreads easily through the air and in enclosed spaces.
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Illness, which is deadly in 1 in 1,000 cases, can only be eradicated through preventive vaccination.

There are fears that an Israeli measles epidemic, which revealed a lack of vaccinations in some groups in Israeli society, has now reached the United Kingdom.

According to local newspaper The Jewish Chronicle, more than 500 children had to receive emergency vaccinations following an outbreak of 63 cases among London's Haredi population.

In an interview with the Chronicle, a local doctor, Joseph Spitzer, said that immunization rates in the haredi community was “definitely lower than the general population". He cited large families, lack of time, "urban myths regarding “dangers” of the MMR vaccine", and also a mistrust of secular authorities as reasons for the phenomenon.

The Haredi community in the northeastern neighborhoods of Hackney and Haringey is the largest in Europe, with a fast-growing population of 30,000.

There are strong ties to the Haredi community in both the USA and Israel, which has sprouted fears that the illness came to the British capital with people coming back from celebrating the high holidays in the fall.

AFP/Niklas Halle'n

These mirror similar concerns about the ultra-orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey, where more than 100 cases were reported between the months of October and November.

This is the latest development in a story that has given ammunition to a hotly debated political issue in the Jewish state.

Measles is a highly infectious disease with a long incubation period. Symptoms can appear more than three weeks after infection.

The illness, which can have drastic consequences, does not have a cure, and kills approximately one in 1,000 infected.

An 18-month old died in Israel in October, and more than 2,000 people have contracted the disease so far, according to the health ministry. The epidemic probably originated somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Israel's immunization rate against measles is close to 95%, a proportion that corresponds to herd immunity.

However, some groups within Israeli society have refused vaccinations. If religious communities seem to be at the center of the controversy, other groups are also at risk.

Last week, low vaccination rates among a secular community in the northern Israeli town of Pardes Hanna was also reported by Israel Hayom. The discovery led to hundreds of emergency vaccinations carried out.

Anti-vaccination information is as endemic as the illness itself, especially among parents of young children. The measles vaccine has been linked to autism, although that rumour is continuously debunked by most experts, and all governmental institutions internationally.

The Israeli parliament is currently debating pro-vaccination legislation.

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