SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Recent outbreaks of measles in New York City has Mayor Bill de Blasio requiring immunizations among Orthodox Jewish communities where religious exemptions are highly common. Utah doctor Tamara Sheffield strongly encourages immunization but says education, not penalization, is the key defense.
Sheffield works as the Community Health and Prevention Director at Intermountain Healthcare, educating patients and communities about immunization, in a state recently named as one of the hot-spots for the anti-vaccination movement.
She said measles outbreaks in surrounding states is concerning, especially with a growing population of people who are not immunized in Utah.
“They can bring that back here to Utah,” Sheffield said.
Since 2000, the U.S. has been largely free of measles, Sheffield said. That is changing as more skepticism about the safety of vaccinations grows, due largely in part to misinformation spreading, Sheffield told ABC4 News.
“The number one way of protecting us and our communities is to make sure we are all immune to the virus,” she said. Sheffield also said punishing individuals for not complying may not be the way to go, though the U.S. Supreme Court in 1905 did uphold states’ ability to compel vaccinations in the event of an outbreak.
Sheffield said she prefers a more compromising approach, allowing people to make their own medical choices while not being able to choose the consequences of those choices.
Those consequences may include quarantine and not being able to attend certain schools or events where immunizations are required. Still, she said, religious exemptions should be honored in most cases.
But those opposed to requiring vaccinations are also reacting to the mandatory immunization order in New York City, saying the government is infringing on religious liberty.
“This is a personal religious decision, and I don’t think no one has the right to make those types of decisions for somebody else,” said Kristen Chevrier, who directs Your Health Freedom in Utah.
Chevrier advocates for free agency when it comes to immunizations and said she was concerned about what many call an “overreach” of governmental ethical authority.
Some Orthodox Jewish leaders, like Rabbi Avremi Zippel in Salt Lake City, told ABC4 News immunizations are not prohibited by Jewish tradition. Other rabbis in New York City agree.
“You are required by Jewish law to take every preventive measure that you, yourself– to guard your health and especially when that can affect others,” said New York Rabbi David Niederman to CNN Tuesday.
Chevrier said she has done research for herself and talked with medical providers who still maintain immunizations can be harmful. Chevrier said she believes the government is specifically targeting the Jewish people with this type of mandatory immunization order.
Effects of the measles vary, said Sheffield.
“Besides being really really ill with high fevers,” she said. “The worst outcomes we get are called encephalitis, where you get swelling in the brain and death. It’s the most infectious virus we have out there that’s prevented by vaccines – and it’s also the most deadly.”
So far in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been 465 cases of the measles in the United States.