(JTA) — New York City’s info page on an ongoing measles outbreak could not be clearer: “Most of these cases have involved members of the Orthodox Jewish community,” it says.
But less clear is the cause of the outbreaks, in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Rockland County. Officials say low immunization rates in these communities are to blame, and have tried to force residents to vaccinate.
Orthodox organizations like Agudath Israel of America acknowledge that there are pockets of resistance to vaccination in those communities. But they say overall vaccination rates for Orthodox Jews are in line with the general population and vaccination is the “clear societal norm” in the community.
State statistics show, however, that Rockland County’s immunization rates are significantly below the 96 percent goal set by the state Health Department. And more than 20 Orthodox schools in Rockland and Brooklyn had more than 10 percent of kids claiming a religious exemption from vaccination.
To be sure, a low vaccination rate isn’t the only issue at play. A Rockland County official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that other factors have contributed to the disease’s spread among Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jews tend to live in close quarters with large families, and have a high rate of interpersonal interaction — for example, men gather for prayer at synagogue three times a day. The official said Orthodox Jews tend to travel overseas more often that other residents, which could bring measles cases from Israel or Ukraine, where cases have been reported.