We have always been in favor of children receiving proper inoculation with vaccines as recommended by their physicians. Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is just wrong.
That said, what is wrong with providing a forum for reasonable and intelligent discussion regarding an issue that is very much on our minds collectively, and involves the important decisions we all need to make about the health of our children?
Over the past several weeks, we have devoted space in the 5TJT and 5TJT.com to explore what has become a particularly contentious issue in the Orthodox Jewish community. On one hand, as editor and publisher I am thanked profusely by some, and on the other hand we are being characterized as “appalling at best and highly irresponsible at worst,” and partly liable for outbreaks of measles in Israel, Williamsburg, Monsey, and Lakewood, according to one online comment.
Another reader on our website, 5TJT.com, wrote, “Thank you, Mr. Gordon, for your honest and unbiased reporting. The only answer in this heated and divisive debate is open dialogue and discussion.”
Another online reader wrote: “Well that’s it for me reading the 5 Towns Jewish Times. Vaccines save lives of the immunized and those who cannot be vaccinated because they are immunocompromised — but who cares about the facts.”
Another reader posted this: “Wow! How refreshing! Thank you 5TJT for bringing freedom of the press back to American culture. We need debate on this issue, it’s been long overdue.”
That is just a sampling of some of the hundreds of letters and comments we received over the last few days about the issue of vaccinations to protect against childhood diseases such as measles and mumps.
The position of the traditional medical community is that vaccines are brilliant scientific breakthroughs that prevent most children from acquiring these diseases and thereby inhibit the spread of maladies that are mostly contagious. Beyond that, having children receive vaccines at a young age also prevents them from spreading these diseases and infecting pregnant women and their fetuses as well as people who cannot be vaccinated for various reasons.
Those questioning the efficacy and true nature of vaccines are often those who have observed their own children or children of relatives or friends who acquired a series of lifelong, chronic illnesses that they trace to occurring as a result of being vaccinated.
The doctors we have spoken with over the last few weeks say tracing vaccines to serious life-altering conditions like autism, Asperger’s syndrome, loss of hearing and other problems has no medical or scientific basis and is unproven. Considering that there is no scientific foundation to these assertions, the position follows that it is completely irresponsible for schools, for example, not to require that all students be vaccinated. Otherwise, they facilitate those who do not receive vaccines infecting others and spreading these once-common childhood diseases that many people endured without any lifelong repercussions.
Since jumping into the fray between pro- and anti-vaxxers, it has become abundantly clear that there is complicated medical science at play here, and I can easily understand why it is the stance of most doctors that laymen and those without any medical background are really not sufficiently grounded to render an opinion on such a complex matter.
After some cursory inquiries, it seems that the nature of the debate between those in favor of the full gamut of available vaccines for children and those opposed is not being debated on an even playing field.
Those endorsing the plethora of illness-preventing vaccines have vast and intensive medical and scientific training and understand the what is involved when vaccines mix with the bodies of young children.
While those opposed to vaccines usually do not have that type of training, their positions are often rendered as a result of personal experience and the hardships of dealing with children who they believe had their development misdirected following what we commonly refer to as “their shots.”
After reading some of the letters, it is somewhat astounding that those who write and seem to be reasonably intelligent people criticize this publication and me personally for what they call aligning ourselves with the anti-vaxxer movement.
That allegation is absurd, and it is this kind of extreme conclusion about our editorial position that brings into question the veracity of those writers. If we choose to provide some newspaper space to opposing positions on a matter, why does it mean that we are automatically identifying or agreeing with that opposing and minority viewpoint to any extent?
Over the years, we have discussed the inadequacy of the shidduch system in our frum communities. We pointed out that there are thousands of older singles — both women and men — who go months and sometimes years without dates. Some writers called for a new and refreshing approach to the matter in order to get a handle on the crisis.
To this, some respond and ask whether we are calling for these yeshiva men and women to start socializing on their own, fraternizing at weekend events and other similar functions, with some suggesting that we are mainstreaming the idea of yeshiva girls frequenting singles bars to meet eligible men. If some in the community are advocating or suggesting these types of things and we choose to air it in these pages, does that mean that we are in favor of unbridled chaos for singles? I don’t think so.
Some shuls are completely against allowing potentially intoxicating spirits into their synagogues at Shabbos kiddush while others feel that wine or whiskey at a kiddush is imperative and that parents need to be more vigilant in monitoring their children’s access to these beverages. If we provide both sides of this debate here, does that mean that we are encouraging excessive drinking and alcoholism? I don’t think so.
When it comes to politics and elections, if we support one candidate over another, or if we allow both candidates to express their different views on policies, that does not mean if the candidate we did not support wins — as has happened multiple times — we cannot work with the winning candidate.
The freedoms of America mean the exchange of ideas and the tolerance of opposing viewpoints. Frankly, I’ve asked several doctors if they would participate in a panel discussion with the author who appeared on last week’s front page, J. B. Handley. So far the answers from the physicians have been a unanimous “absolutely not.” They contend that even discussing the matter with such a personality lends credibility to the anti-vax position.
If you read Handley’s website and book, he is not suggesting eliminating vaccines from the medical-care protocol for children. He is proposing slowing down the process so as to gauge the possibly subtle long-term impact the vaccines are having on our children.
To complicate matters even further, several high-profile rabbanim, such as Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky of Philadelphia, have advised their followers to not vaccinate if they deem it dangerous based on their knowledge and experience. Some of those rabbis advocate parents taking their children out of yeshivas if need be, and in some cases allow followers to take the yeshivas to court and sue for the right to be exempted from vaccinating their children on religious grounds. Other respected rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson are on record supporting vaccinations.
Though we have not come anywhere near a comprehensive understanding of this issue, let me at least make it clear that my children and grandchildren have all received their vaccines as directed by their pediatricians. The position of the 5TJT is to be a forum for the exchange of legitimate concerns and ideas. Saying that you feel that the conversation is not legitimate does not make it so. I hope that clarifies some things for our readers. We look forward to continuing to be an information outlet on all issues that impact our community. n