A top health official in the north of Israel has forbidden 14 children from attending kindergarten because their parents refused to vaccinate them.
The decision by Dr. Shmuel Rishpon, the top physician in the Health Ministry’s northern district, marks the first-ever such order given by a state medical official and comes amid a nationwide outbreak of measles caused by the refusal of some communities to vaccinate.
“In the past few days, six children learning in [educational] frameworks in Harish contracted measles,” Rishpon wrote in the decision, which was publicized Tuesday.
On December 20 and 23, Health Ministry officials under Rishpon’s direction launched a comprehensive vaccination program against the measles virus for children in the town, which lies northeast of Netanya.
According to Rishpon, “14 children remained [unvaccinated] in two kindergartens, ‘Gan Ma’ayan Ha’emuna’ and ‘Gan Nahman,’ because their parents refused to vaccinate them.”
“These are the very same kindergartens where the measles cases emerged, and these unvaccinated children are liable to contract the virus in the near future and infect other children who are not able to receive the vaccine, such as infants and children with suppressed immune systems, or pregnant women for whom the disease could be a serious and even fatal matter,” Rishpon warned.
There has been a growing trend of parents refusing to vaccinate their children, due to various discredited claims that the life-saving practice is dangerous.
Israeli law gives Rishpon the power to forbid the unvaccinated children’s entry to public schools, but Tuesday marked the first time an Israeli health official has used that authority.
Harish Mayor Yitzhak Keshet backed Rishpon’s order, saying, “We’re cooperating fully with the Health Ministry to mitigate the spread [of the measles virus] in Harish…. We will continue to ensure that all the city’s children are safe and protected.”
Concerns about the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine surfaced in 1998, when a British study, since discredited, linked it with autism. The study was found to be a fraud and the autism link was debunked, but vaccination rates have dropped in some countries and communities, as parents have refused to allow their children to receive their shots.
Since the start of Israel’s outbreak in March, at least 2,857 cases of measles infection have been reported, though nationwide vaccination efforts, including in the IDF, have slowed the spread of the disease, according to health officials.
October was the peak month, with 948 people diagnosed. There was a small drop in November to 893 patients, and there have been 317 Israelis diagnosed with the virus so far in December.
Infections have mostly centered on the country’s ultra-Orthodox community, where inoculation rates have generally been low.
In November, an 18-month-old toddler in Jerusalem died of the disease, the first recorded death from measles in Israel in 15 years. And in December, a 16-month-old girl was hospitalized in critical condition suffering from meningitis and pneumonia as the result of a measles infection.
An 82-year-old woman died earlier this month after being admitted to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem with measles. The Health Ministry noted last week that the woman also suffered from a severe blood disease.
Last week, the Israel Defense Forces announced that several hundred soldiers at the army’s Kirya headquarters base in Tel Aviv were at risk of carrying the virus. The military reached out to the soldiers, who were all in the vicinity of a female soldier who arrived at the base’s medical clinic with measles symptoms earlier this month.