Nine months after the outbreak of the measles epidemic in Israel, the Ministry of Health published data on the epidemic by locality. The figures show that of the 2,040 cases reported to date, the highest number was recorded in Jerusalem — 874 patients, in Beit Shemesh, 266 and in Safed 149 patients. In Bnei Brak, 97 cases were reported, and in Beitar Ilit 95 people contracted measles.
The data also shows that Tel Aviv, Israel’s second most-populous city, recorded 52 cases of measles, while small communities such as Or HaGanuz, a religious community of only 600 residents in the north, had 22 patients and in Kiryat Ye’arim an ultra-Orthodox town near Jerusalem with less than 5,000 residents, 19 people are suffering from measles.
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The Ministry of Health data indicates that among localities with a high number of measles cases, those with a large religious and ultra-Orthodox population are at the top of the list.
The overall rate of immunization in Israel is at more than 97%, which explains the fact that in large localities, only one or two people contracted the disease. For example, in Haifa, the third largest city, two patients were registered, and in Rishon LeZion, the fourth largest city with a quarter of a million residents, there were only four cases of measles.
In an attempt to stop the spread of the outbreak in Jerusalem, the cities’ clinics have expanded their opening hours in recent weeks to allow parents to vaccinate their children. In addition, at the order of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, special ambulances were sent to the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to vaccinate residents.
Even rabbis, led by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, joined the call by Litzman and the Health Ministry and published Halchic rulings demanding that the public go and get vaccinated. In addition, more nurse’s placements were added in the Jerusalem District and entry of non-vaccinated visitors to sensitive hospital departments was restricted.
On Sunday morning, the Knesset’s State Control Committee held a discussion on the Ministry of Health’s preparedness to halt the measles epidemic. “We increased measles immunization in all the relevant communities,” Deputy Minister Litzman said. “I am pleased with the dramatic increase in public awareness of the importance of immunization, thanks to the intensive work of our medical teams. There is still room for additional improvement, and I call for the entire population to be vaccinated in order to prevent an outbreak of the disease.”
The “Midaat” organization, which works to raise awareness of health issues, explains that vaccinations also protect individuals in the population who are not immunized, a phenomenon called “herd immunity”. Thus, infants who have not yet been vaccinated, people with poor immune systems, elderly people whose immune systems have weakened, and even people who deliberately choose not to be vaccinated are protected from disease by the “protective barrier” around them.
The higher the number people not immunized, out of laziness or ideological resistance, the more cracks in the protective barrier. That’s how the number of infected people increases.
Data from the Ministry of Health indicates that the age group with the highest incidence of measles is children aged one to four — 614 patients. Between the ages of 5-9, 399 patients were reported, and among the 10-19 age group, 265 patients were affected by the disease. 358 infants under the age of one year contracted measles.
Last weekend, the youngest patient to have contracted measles in Israel, a three-week-old baby was hospitalized at the Mayanei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak. The baby contracted the disease from his mother, who was not vaccinated and became ill herself when he was only a week old. The mother was apparently infected by another family member. The baby’s condition is stable.
“Measles at such a tender age is rare,” says Prof. Eli Somech, director of the pediatric ward at the hospital and an infectious diseases specialist. “In medical literature there are only a few reports of morbidity at this age, since most babies are protected by antibodies passed from the mother before birth, nor are they exposed to the environment in general.”