The Health Ministry on Tuesday announced a nearly 30 percent rise in vaccination rates for measles in parts of Jerusalem where residents had traditionally shunned immunization, as authorities pushed forward with a campaign to combat an outbreak of the disease.
There have been 1,401 cases of measles in Israel so far this year, according to Health Ministry data, a dramatic rise from the 33 instances recorded in 2017.
Among those infected were a 18-month-old toddler in Jerusalem who died of the disease, the first recorded death from measles in Israel in the past 15 years
As part of its vaccination drive, the Health Ministry said over 80% of people in “pockets” of Jerusalem that previously had a low number of inoculated residents were now vaccinated, up from 55%. The ministry did not name the Jerusalem neighborhoods in question.
It also said 838 of this year’s measles cases were recorded in Jerusalem, nearly 60% of the total. The city with the second highest number of measles cases was Safed, with 219, followed by Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva, which had 89 apiece.
As part of its efforts to combat the outbreak, the ministry also decided it would not lower the minimum required age to receive a vaccination to nine months, down from the current 12, except in certain cases.
The Health Ministry announcement came just days after it kicked off a campaign to ban unvaccinated visitors from some hospital wards and increase vaccination rates in unprotected communities around Jerusalem. The ministry on Sunday said it will be refusing access to “sensitive” departments of hospitals to visitors who are not immunized against the disease. These wards include intensive care and oncology. The ministry said in a statement that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman approved the “intensive measures” that would be introduced in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.
The low vaccination rates in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods have been attributed to a faulty perception that fervently religious Jews are protected from infection by the insulated nature of their communities, as well as discredited rumors that the life-saving practice is dangerous.
The ministry said officials were considering further measures to combat the outbreak, including barring unvaccinated people from schools.
According to Hadashot news on Sunday night, some 5 percent to 10 percent of those infected have been vaccinated.
The measles outbreak in Israel has spread to both London and New York in recent weeks.
World Health Organization data shows measles kills about 134,000 children a year.
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, as concerned parents have prevented children receiving their shots.
According to Prof. Shai Ashkenazi, director of the Israeli Pediatric Society, measles “was on the cusp of extinction, but, because of a decline in vaccination, has made a big comeback. In Europe, too, in the first half of 2018, there were more than 41,000 incidents of infection with at least 37 deaths.”