Since January 2018, 4,115 Israelis have been infected with measles. According to the Israeli Health Ministry, many of them hail from communities that are home to large concentrations of parents who refuse or fail to vaccinate their children against the disease, that can be serious and even fatal.
The ministry had been aware an outbreak could be imminent because of similar outbreaks in some European countries. Moreover, the ministry knew years ago that there were dangerous numbers of parents in various communities in Israel who refused to vaccinate their children. In fact, the State Comptroller warned of the risk as early as 2014.
But the ministry did nearly nothing to reduce the “resistance pockets” that put not only their own children but the public at large at risk. Vaccinations protect not only those who receive them directly, but also provide herd immunity for the general population when the rate of vaccination is high enough.
And that’s not all. This past year the ministry received a number of complaints about specific doctors advising parents not to vaccinate their children—some of whom even gave parents the false information that vaccinations are dangerous. And what did the ministry do? Again, nearly nothing. The ministry remembered to take action only after an exposé in the Israel Hayom weekend magazine.
There’s more: In November 2018, the Knesset State Control Committee held a special discussion on the ministry’s failures to combat the anti-vaccination phenomenon, and senior ministry officials said that a specially appointed committee would be done “clarifying” the actions of doctors who discourage vaccination within a period of three weeks. Since then, more than five months have passed. The “clarification” just wrapped up this week and didn’t include all the doctors allegedly involved.
The committee appointed to look into doctors who discourage vaccinations made the unprecedented determination that the reduced rate of vaccination in Israel, which has helped spur the measles outbreak, was caused in part by “dangerous calls by members of health professions not to vaccinate in accordance with the vaccination program, in violation of the [country’s] vaccination policy.” Yet even these findings have not prompted the Health Ministry to launch a nationwide campaign to encourage and explain vaccination, to both the public and doctors.
The committee’s findings are groundbreaking; it has done impressive work. But the ministry is still doing too little, too late to fight the dangerous “anti-vaxxer” phenomenon and, as usual, is not launching any national program to deal with the problem or with the measles outbreak itself. The ministry continues to put out small fires without addressing the big picture, which is going up in the flames of ignorance and manipulation by doctors; the ministry’s own insufficient preparedness for a measles outbreak; and the ongoing harm to public health care.
This column first appeared on Israel Hayom.