Religious Objections to the Measles Vaccine? Get the Shots, Faith Leaders Say – Smart Media Magazine

Religious Objections to the Measles Vaccine? Get the Shots, Faith Leaders Say


The measles outbreak in the United States is now the largest since the disease was declared eliminated here 19 years ago. The return of this scourge has been driven by one factor in particular: misinformation, spread by vaccine critics, that scares parents into not immunizing their children.

Along with rumors that vaccines cause autism or that the trace amounts of mercury and aluminum in them are dangerous — falsehoods that were long ago debunked — have come innuendos aimed at deeply religious parents.

Vaccines, the activists say, contain ingredients made from pigs, dogs, monkeys and aborted fetuses. Indeed, most of those assertions are based in fact. Ingredient lists published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins show that vaccines may contain these elements (although any residual DNA is present only at the parts-per-million level).

Nonetheless, vaccination is endorsed by top Jewish and Islamic scholars, and by the Vatican. Religious authorities have meticulously studied how vaccines are made and what is in them, and still have ruled that they do not violate Jewish, Islamic or Catholic law.

More than 200 years ago, Rabbi Weiss noted in a recent article, Rabbi Israel Lifschitz, author of a famous commentary on oral Jewish law, declared that Dr. Edward Jenner, the English inventor of the smallpox vaccine, was “one of the righteous among nations” for saving thousands of lives.

The current measles epidemic among Orthodox Jews in Israel, Britain and this country was triggered in part by a pilgrimage last fall to the Ukrainian grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov branch of Hasidism.

Rabbi Nachman was himself a strong vaccination advocate. Failing to vaccinate children against smallpox before they were three months old “is like spilling blood,” he wrote.

Earlier generations of Orthodox scholars had ruled that vaccination was “permissible and proper,” Rabbi Weiss also said, even with the crude early vaccines that sometimes killed recipients.

Vaccines are made from viruses, which are just protein shells containing short stretches of DNA or RNA and can multiply only when grown in broths of live cells. Those cells are unusual in that they must be “immortal” — that is, able to replicate for decades without suffering “cell death,” the aging process.

(The best-known example is HeLa cells, which were isolated from a tumor in a woman named Henrietta Lacks, who died in 1951. More than 50 million tons of HeLa cells have since been grown for use in cancer research.)

The cells also must be free of cancer and viruses, which is one reason the ancestor cells come from fetuses that have never been exposed to pathogens — fetuses that were removed in sterile surgical environments, not from miscarriages.

Among Buddhists, the Dalai Lama has personally given polio vaccine to children to further the world polio-eradication drive. One of the first accounts of variolation — an ancient form of smallpox prevention — was from an 11th century Buddhist nun, who blew ground smallpox scabs into the noses of her patients.

Although the Vatican would like vaccine companies to replace old cell lines with new ones, that is extremely unlikely, experts said. Human fetal tissue would presumably still be required.

The multiyear testing process also would have to start all over again — and anything other than a product perfect the first time could endanger the thousands of infants it would have to be tested in.

“It would probably cost a vaccine company over a billion dollars,” said Dr. Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “And they’d be competing against themselves. There is absolutely no incentive.”



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