Measles Outbreak 2019 Update: What Faith Leaders Say About Vaccines

Among the common reasons that people refuse to get vaccines is their religious belief. But amid the growing measles outbreak in the U.S., leaders of major religions have expressed support for vaccination and called on their members to rethink and save their children. 

The ongoing outbreak in the country is considered the largest since the government declared measles as fully eliminated 19 years ago. Officials said misinformation against vaccines contributed to the sudden spread of the disease as critics scared parents into not immunizing their children. 

The false claims include rumors that vaccines cause autism and contain mercury, aluminum and other ingredients made from pigs, dogs, monkeys and aborted fetuses. But all these have been debunked by health organizations and scientific studies. 

To address the growing fear across the U.S., religious authorities also conducted their own studies. Due to positive results and evidence showing the safety of vaccines, the Vatican along with top Jewish and Islamic scholars endorsed the preventive measure. 

“Since it is proven that vaccines are effective to prevent the spread of disease, it is an obligation upon every father to vaccinate his children,” Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, vice president of the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, said in an open letter to the dean of a major Orthodox yeshiva in the U.S.

Religious leaders also emphasized that vaccination does not violate Jewish, Islamic or Catholic laws, The New York Times reported. Such laws apply only to food ingested by mouth and not to injected material, according to Naor Bar-Zeev, a professor of international health and vaccine science at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Some Jewish scholars said that “denatured” substances like gelatin are not subject to the same restrictions as pork flesh. Islam also forbids eating pork but scholars from religion approved the use of porcine gelatin in medicines.

“Gelatin formed as a result of the transformation of the bones, skin and tendons of a judicially impure animal is pure, and it is judicially permissible to eat it,” the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences said.

Rabbi Sternbuch and Rabbi Asher Weiss, chief authority on medical law for Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, both supported the use of vaccines to save people, particularly children, from danger.

High authorities of all other major religions back vaccination, including the Vatican, Mormons, Episcopalians, Lutherans and many other Christian denominations. Officials said vaccines should be required in schools and be distributed at missionary hospitals.

Even Dalai Lama himself backed the use of vaccines. He reportedly gave polio vaccine to children in support of the world polio eradication drive. 

The World Health Organization recently reported that vaccines saved more than 10 million people in the last decade.