Hundreds of Hasidic kids get vaccine after measles outbreak

The Hasidic Tosh community in Boisbriand, Que., is co-operating with public health officials to stop the spread of measles. (File photo)

About 350 children in the Tosh Hasidic community north of Montreal have been vaccinated against measles, after five cases of the disease were confirmed there this summer.

The second of two temporary clinics set up by the public health authority within the community closed on Aug. 16, after vaccinating at least 150 youngsters over four days, said Isaac Weiss, who is one of the people responsible for security and public safety in the community, which is located in the town of Boisbriand, Que.

He said the first clinic took place about a month earlier, after “one suspected case” was discovered. Approximately 200 children were vaccinated at that time.

The immunization was offered to those whose medical records showed they were unvaccinated or not up to date, but was voluntary.

Community leaders are co-operating fully with the CISSS des Laurentides, which ran the clinics, said Weiss. The public health director, Dr. Eric Goyer, said these were the first cases of measles in the region since 2011.

Before the two clinics were held, Weiss said “90 to 95 per cent” of Tosh families had their children vaccinated, and community leaders are urging all of its members to do so. There are about 500 Tosh families in Boisbriand, or 3,000 people.

No one knows for sure how the infection spread.

Weiss said it is thought that a young man from the community who went to New York to take part in a recreational after-school program may have contracted the virus and brought it back to Boisbriand. It appears that he had been vaccinated, but his shots were not up to date.

The community’s leaders are informing members about the necessity of vaccinations and trying to dispel any fear about the risk of negative side effects.

Unvaccinated children will not be permitted to attend the community’s schools until the outbreak is deemed contained, Weiss said, but parents can only be persuaded, not forced, to vaccinate their children.

“We have a few anti-vaxxers; it’s no different from any community,” he said. Nevertheless, the leadership has been insisting that there are no religious grounds for refusing vaccination; rather, safeguarding the health of one’s children and others is an obligation.

A father of five who asked that his name not be published, said, “We are outraged that there are parents – a few – who are so irresponsible as to refuse (vaccination).

“The rabbis are talking about it, everyone is talking about it, but some are difficult to convince.”

Last spring, when there was a serious measles outbreak in New York, Montreal public health authorities stepped up an educational campaign targeting ultra-Orthodox communities.

While the rate of vaccination among those communities is believed to be similar to that of the general population, there is frequent contact between the Montreal and New York communities.

At the time, Rabbi Yonasan Binyomin Weiss, who serves as the chief rabbi of Montreal and heads the medical ethics committee of the Jewish Community Council, stated that, “From a religious perspective, and also from an ethical and moral perspective, our message is very clear: families are required to follow the directions of the health authorities.”

In April, many Montreal doctors were among over 500 medical professionals serving Orthodox Jewish communities throughout North America who signed a public letter confirming the need for everyone to be vaccinated according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The doctors rejected “the dangerous misinformation campaign being spread and reject any unproven unscientific statements that contradict all available current science-based studies on vaccinations” against measles and other illnesses.

In July, public health officials issued a warning that a person suspected to have measles had visited the kosher Pizza Pita restaurant on Décarie Boulevard on June 26. There were no reported instances of anyone who had been there at the time showing symptoms within the incubation period of up to two weeks.