With outbreaks of measles across England and Wales, officials have renewed appeals to the Jewish community to encourage vaccine uptake.
Figures show vaccination rates remain low in areas with large Jewish communities, and the UK Health Security Agency has warned that measles cases are likely to spread rapidly unless more people are vaccinated.
While the NHS doesn’t record figures based on religion, areas with large Jewish communities have a historically low uptake.
In Hackney, according to latest figures, only 69 per cent of 24-month-olds have had their first dose of the MMR, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.
Rabbi Herschel Gluck, president of Shomrim in Stamford Hill, told the JC:“It’s a great concern since [not having the vaccine] is putting children’s lives in danger.”
“We are doing a tremendous amount of work to encourage people to take up the MMR vaccine and to facilitate opportunities for vaccination. We are assisting in producing literature on the importance of the vaccine and helping to arrange vaccination centres, working closely with the NHS and Hackney Council.”
Dr Joseph Spitzer, a GP from Stamford Hill in Hackney, said rates remained low among his patients.
He told the JC: “I have been a GP in Stamford Hill for 39 years, and close to 90 per cent of our patients are drawn from the local Charedi community. Over a third of our patients are children under the age of 10, so immunisation is extremely relevant to this population and to our work.
“The uptake of immunisations in the Charedi community is far from ideal, with less than 25 per cent being fully immunised at the right time.”
He said the current risk of outbreak of measles in England should act as a warning to parents and carers to get the vaccine.
He said reasons for parents not taking up the vaccine ranged from fears about the side effects to misinformation.
He said: “I believe that the urban myths, the misinformation, parental views and peer ignorance are all believed much more strongly than medical truths, facts, and information.”
The doctor, who said he passionately encourages vaccine uptake within his community, is worried it would take “a tragedy” for uptake to increase.
He said: “I hope they do improve before [that] befalls the community.”
According to NHS guidance, two doses of the MMR vaccination is the best way to prevent harm from measles. While measles normally clears up within seven to 10 days, complications can include pneumonia, meningitis, blindness and seizures, and, in some cases, death.
Dr Will Maimaris, director of public health at Haringey Council, said: “We are working closely with the London Jewish Health Partnership, Hackney Council, the NHS and local Charedi community organisations to ensure easy access to MMR vaccination and support for families to protect their children against measles.
Nationally, the number of primary school children who have had both doses of the MMR vaccine is below WHO targets.
Between 2022-23 approximately 85 per cent of children received two MMR doses by their fifth birthday, which is the lowest level since 2010-11. Child health experts say the target figure is 95 per cent to avoid an outbreak.
Dr Sandra Husbands, director of public health for Hackney and City, said: “As a council, we have been working with our diverse communities to understand barriers to vaccinations and how we can best address them, so that all of our local residents have easy access to vaccines and feel confident in taking them, when offered.”
She added: “We have undertaken community webinars focused on childhood immunisations, pop-up vaccination clinics in areas with the lowest rates, helped the NHS to locate vaccination centres in the heart of our communities and co-produced our communications about childhood vaccinations with the populations we are trying to reach, to ensure they are as clear and effective as possible.”
She appealed to all parents in Hackney to “get your child vaccinated. It is the best way to protect them from severe, and sometimes, deadly illnesses.
“If in doubt, speak to your GP or health visitor and they will be able to answer your questions and address any concerns you have.”
Dr Leonora Weil, public health consultant and immunisation lead at the UK Health Security Agency London, said: “Measles is a serious but entirely preventable disease. Currently, there is a risk that outbreaks of measles could spread rapidly unless urgent action is taken to protect people by boosting uptake of the MMR vaccination in areas with lowest coverage.
“Complications from measles, mumps and rubella can be potentially life changing, including blindness, deafness and swelling of the brain. No parent wants this for their child especially when these diseases can be easily prevented.”