IIn recent weeks, Dr. Jay Begun said he and his colleagues were in a close crisis mode situation in their small pediatric office in Brooklyn.
As an accelerated measles outbreak sounded the alarm both inside and outside the isolated Jewish community, the staff was forced to bring some patients to the sidewalk or in their car, hoping to avoid the spread of the virus that made the Williamsburg district the latest. the epicenter of a national debate on vaccines.
Whenever possible, nasal swabs and blood samples are taken from children – who are thought to have been exposed to the virus during yeshivas or during games played in a culture that encourages large families and children. in full swing – on the outside, while the weather has shown signs of prolonged cold slowdown in the winter.
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"In recent weeks, the number of cases has increased dramatically. I see a lot more cases. I get many more calls about this, "said Dr. Begun, founder of Kindercare Pediatrics and instructor at the pediatric department of Mount Sinai Medical Center.
"For some reason, all of a sudden, the transmission is accelerated. It has really taken off, "he said of the virus epidemic, which was reportedly brought back from Israel in October by Orthodox Jews returning from Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival.
The city of New York has seen at least 229 cases of measles this year alone, nearly half of the 465 cases seen in the country, in an outbreak declared as eradicated by US health authorities 20 years ago. Since October, the total number of homes in the city is 285.
This worrisome situation is indicative of the rise of anti-vaccine thinking in communities across the United States in recent years, affecting communities on all sides. In Texas, conservative populations have rejected vaccines, while Washington state liberals have done the same.
In these areas, as in Brooklyn, misinformation has spread and engendered fear, with campaigns warning against sin, autism, or many of the side effects of modern medicine that saved lives. At least 17 studies have shown no connection between autism and the MMR vaccine, a theory originally proposed by the disgraced British physician, Andrew Wakefield.
While recent cases in Brooklyn piled up – fed by pamphlets warning that vaccines were made with aborted fetal cells and would cause autism – in the highly united Orthodox Jewish community south of Williamsburg and Borough Park, The situation caught the attention of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio this week by stating a health emergency and urging his health department to ensure that this dangerous and highly contagious disease is stopped.
To address the problem, the city reported that 20 health inspectors have been deployed in the region, wearing uniform blue jackets, performing yeshiva vaccine audits and working closely with the doctors to ensure residents have access to information and vaccines that could save their lives. .
The inspectors attended interviews with people who may have been exposed to the virus and bring blood samples to a Queens laboratory for further analysis, said a spokesman for the mayor's office.
"The Health Department doubles this epidemic and continues its methodical and targeted work in the affected areas to ensure that they reach potentially exposed community members and that they share the same risk. importance of vaccination, "the spokesman said in an email. .
But the situation in Williamsburg, from the ground, seems all but desperate.
Men and women normally walk on sidewalks and streets, and kosher markets stay open and sell products such as Idaho potatoes. Bright yellow school buses sporting Yiddish continue to follow their route. Fathers wearing black hats and pieces of loubovitch always wait around the corner for the arrival of their young daughters on the same buses.
David Oberlander, director of Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov, where some cases had been discovered earlier in the outbreak, pointed to a letter he had received from the city's health department stating that his schools had been 97.3% meet vaccination requirements in mid-February. but has since increased this percentage to 100%.
Mr. Oberlander stated that he thought that the outbreak was the result of large families living in a restricted urban environment, which was not necessarily a sign of widespread disbelief and disgrace. afraid of vaccines. The fact that they are children, he said, shows that it is likely that the parents did not return the vaccines until later in the life of their children, which had effect of reducing the immunity of the flock.
"It's a very united community. Small apartments. You can have 50 to 60 children in a building, "he said.
Mr. Oberlander stated that his schools would not accept students if they had not been vaccinated and that he suspected that most of the cases were very young children. He suggested that these outbreaks were not only affected by his community, noting that they had been reported throughout the country.
"It seemed like there was an ultra-orthodox cult," he said of recent media coverage of the situation in Brooklyn.
Similarly, Rabbi David Niederman said he did not think that members of his community – which numbered in the hundreds of thousands – were rejecting vaccines at a rate never seen before in other parts of the country. His community is concerned about the health of its members and children, he said.
Instead, he said the virus could spread faster in his community, which was built around religious institutions in a neighborhood of New York City hardly exceeding two square miles in total.
In a city known for having people literally living on top of one another, the people of South Williamsburg are particularly connected.
"It's the nature of New York City," said Rabbi Niederman. "But we must also live around our religious infrastructure."