The obligation to vaccinate
The obligation to vaccinate

Question about Vaccinations

Rabbi, Shalom. My name is Shira Blitz from Neriah, a mother who is worried about the health of her children, who reads a great deal about vaccinations, but nevertheless, realizes her lack of knowledge on the subject. I learned a lot from medical professionals as part of counseling, and also from those who devote their time beyond working hours to explain. Accordingly, my children are immunized.

After years of reading on social networks, it is clear that there is a great deal of confusion among the public about vaccines, and a widespread and dangerous perception that everyone is able to understand and reach an “informed” decision on these matters as a result of his ability to use Google, where all the sources are evenly balanced and each side is legitimate. Unfortunately, there are others voicing opinions counter to scientific knowledge that are gaining momentum mainly in the religious public.

My feeling, and the feeling of many others, is that the public needs clear guidance on this matter. This is especially true today, following the outbreak of measles, for which there is a large amount of misinformation on the Internet in ever-increasing dimensions. We are asking you, Rabbi, to deal with this subject, especially from the halakhic aspect, in your column ‘Revivim’. I believe that an authoritative halakhic ruling on the matter will benefit many of the undecided and contribute to the public’s health – especially to the safety of those whose immune systems are weak due to illness or age, and are currently in increased danger.

Answer: The Vaccine is Essential, the Risk is Negligible

As in every case, I turned to the person most expert in the field who I am familiar with, Dr. Rafi Cayam, a pediatrician in his specialization, who for many years has served as the regional physician for the Leumit HMO in the Jerusalem area, and most of the communities in Judea and Samaria. Most of the residents of our community also use his services.

He said the measles vaccine was essential as measles is one of the most contagious diseases. As to whether this vaccine had a risk, he replied that there was almost no risk, to the point where it is possible to say there is no risk at all. In other words, everything has a certain risk – including walking on the street—but such negligible risks are not taken into consideration.

The main research that the vaccine opponents relied upon turned out to be false, and was written for lawyers to support a lawsuit against drug companies. After the writer of the bogus research admitted to falsifying, his doctor’s license was revoked, and the newspaper that published the study expressed regret for its publication.
The claims against the vaccine, which is accused of causing autism, mental retardation, or brain damage, have no foundation. The main research that the vaccine opponents relied upon turned out to be false, and was written for lawyers to support a lawsuit against drug companies. After the writer of the bogus research admitted to falsifying, his doctor’s license was revoked, and the newspaper that published the study expressed regret for its publication.

While the vaccine has a 97% rate of effectiveness, nevertheless, when such a percentage of the population is immunized, even those three percent are protected. On the other hand, when groups of people are not vaccinated, the public’s general vaccination is no longer beneficial to them, nor to people who have been immunized – including those three percent – and the disease spreads to people whose immune system has been weakened by illness or old age as well.

We Follow the Majority

The basis for relying on the position of the majority of physicians is from the Torah, as it is stated regarding a dispute in the Beit Din (religious court) between the dayanim (judges): “A case must be decided on the basis of the majority” (Exodus 23: 2). From this our Sages learned that all laws follow the majority (see, Chulin 11a-b). And in disputes between doctors, we also follow the majority (S. A., O. C. 618; Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im 8: 5). All the more so here, where apparently there is no medical position based on studies and tested facts that repudiates the vaccines.

Incidentally, anyone who does not trust the rule that the majority is followed will find himself beset with doubts and problems his entire life. This is because he cannot rely on any kashrut certificate, lest the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) is corrupt – and even if he is honest – maybe the owner of the business was able to deceive him; he cannot drink milk either, because maybe the cow from which the milk came from had a sircha (adhesion) on its lungs rendering it treif (not kosher); he cannot marry because maybe he was not informed of everything involved; he cannot have children, for who knows how they will turn out; and he cannot travel, because maybe an accident might occur.

The Moral Problem of Non-Immunization

Parents who do not want to vaccinate their children, however, can argue they are not required to follow the majority, for if they alone do not vaccinate their children, nothing will happen (and they too benefit from the vaccination of others…). However, this position is based on an immoral point of view, because if everyone behaves in this manner, the population will not be vaccinated, and serious and contagious diseases will turn into epidemics.

This position is the same as that of a person claiming that if he alone avoids military service, the security of the state will not be harmed, because one less soldier will not change the state of national security (and he too benefits from the protection provided by those who do enlist …). However, if everyone preferred his own personal safety and comfort, our situation would be dreadful.

Similarly with respect to income tax – if someone says that nothing will happen if he does not pay – the state’s defense, education, health, and transportation systems, etc., and society at large, will manage with the taxes of everyone else (and he too will benefit from all this good…). However, if more people prefer their personal welfare, society as a whole will collapse, and all the positive things done with taxes will be lost.

This claim is so strong morally, to the point where if one says to a person, “Kill your friend, if not, we will kill you,” he is obligated to give up his life, and not to transgress and kill his friend. And the rationale: “What reason do you see for thinking that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is redder?! (Pesachim 25b).

Do Not Separate Yourself from the Community

In relation to this, Hillel the Elder said: “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Avot 2: 4). Our Sages also said: “When the community is in distress, and one of them separates himself and goes to eat and drink, two ministering angels accompany him, lay coals on his head, and say “So and so separated himself from the community in the time of their troubles, he will not see the consolations of the community.” (Pesikta Zutra, Exodus 2: 11).

As long as we are speaking about expression of a position and public debate, different opinions should also be encouraged. Moreover, thanks to the criticism of vaccinations, the pharmaceutical companies and health authorities will most likely take extreme care, and do their best to minimize the risks even more.

However, one should act according to the vast majority of doctors, who over the last few generations have succeeded in eradicating epidemics that caused the death of millions of people.

In addition, public officials have the responsibility of examining the formation of procedures in the education system and the like, that will protect the immunized public from those who are not.