Dr. Marian Michaels, a professor of pediatrics and surgery at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, discussed aspects of immunization during a joint program among Pittsburgh’s three Jewish day schools.
Michaels’ talk at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, which was titled, “Protecting our children from infection: Update on why we immunize when we immunize,” featured a recitation of studies and stories regarding the need to immunize.
Although the event attracted only 30 attendees, the topic and its manner of presentation was of incredible importance, said organizers.
“Our job is to protect the health of every child and do what’s best for them,” said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, dean of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.
Keeping abreast of immunization information is critical to our collaboration, said Avi Baran Munro, Community Day School’s head of school. “One of the things we have worked on together for so many years is to ensure health and safety for the whole community.”
Michaels’ talk came on the heels of an unsolicited mailing targeting many in Pittsburgh’s Orthodox Jewish community. After the arrival of “The Vaccine Safety Handbook,” a booklet that purports to undertake “the job of filling in the huge information gap and discerning fact from fiction” regarding immunization, Michaels was asked to provide further elaboration on the topic.
The booklet, and similar publications, “have no basis in fact,” Michaels said. What people should realize is that “aside from improving sanitization, nothing has done as much to protect the health of children as vaccination.”
“Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements of biomedical science and public health,” reported the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in a publication regarding achievements in 20th-century public health.
“Since monovalent vaccines containing measles, rubella and mumps vaccine viruses — and subsequently combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine — were licensed, the numbers of reported cases of measles, mumps, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) have decreased by more than 99 percent,” added the CDC in a publication addressing the goals and strategies for measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) elimination and for mumps reduction in the United States.
Similarly, “after the establishment of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in 1974, with diphtheria vaccine as one of the original six EPI vaccines, the incidence of diphtheria decreased dramatically worldwide. The total number of reported diphtheria cases was reduced by more than 90 percent during the period 1980 to 2000,” noted the Weekly Epidemiological Record of the World Health Organization.
Polio, a disease once “feared worldwide,” has been reduced by 99 percent because of vaccination, added the World Health Organization.
When we have a child at our hospital in our ICU because of something preventable, it breaks my heart.
While the numerical reductions are staggering, small cases of the aforementioned diseases remain, said Michaels. “Smallpox is the only disease we’ve completely eradicated.”
Apart from sharing statistics, much of Michaels’ time was dedicated to explaining why immunizations are given to the young.
“Babies are the ones with the biggest risk. They’re the ones we need to protect,” said the physician. “When we have a child at our hospital in our ICU because of something preventable, it breaks my heart.”
The seriousness of the topic relates to the classical concept that although observing the Sabbath is of critical importance, Jewish law instructs that when faced with the decision to save someone’s life or desecrate the Sabbath, “the life of a person has a priority,” said Rosenfeld.
Not only do vaccinations protect those receiving them, “we also vaccinate a population to protect others,” said Michaels, who explicated the idea through a series of slides on herd immunity.
The concept of herd immunity, or community immunity, is that “when enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the germs can’t travel as easily from person to person — and the entire community is less likely to get the disease,” explained the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
So while herd immunity, because of the large numbers of vaccinators, may protect those unable to receive vaccinations due to other medical conditions, the safeguard will ultimately break down if enough people fail to vaccinate, said Michaels.
“Whenever someone could get vaccinated, they should,” said Rosenfeld.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe made it clear, he added. “It’s being done successfully, so do it.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.