We understand why some parents are afraid of getting their children vaccinated.

First, it’s unpleasant. It scares small children, and it hurts them, and sometimes they run low-grade fevers for the next day or so, and it makes them crabby. Children come to distrust their doctors and their offices because they get hurt there. All in all, it’s an experience parents would like to avoid.

Secondly, although the myth that vaccines cause autism has been roundly debunked, it lingers (particularly because often, and coincidentally, symptoms of autism surface just around the time children are vaccinated). There is so much that is unpredictable and scary about raising children. Having a child turn out somehow to be … off … is a huge fear. It is better to blame it on an outside experience, something pushed on you, than it is to think that it’s in your genes, or in your environment, or somehow in your stars.

Thirdly, few of us – and certainly no one young enough to have a child young enough to vaccinate – remember how serious measles could be. We have no innate fear of it. So it’s spotty. Big deal. Stay out of school a few days, try not to scratch, and it’s over. The truth that measles can kill, and can leave some of its living victims brain-damaged, seems like a scare tactic, even though it’s the truth.

But the unpleasantness passes quickly, vaccines do not cause autism, and measles do kill.

It is a Jewish value to take care of yourself and your children, and of the larger community. In this case, although the effort is made to put those two at odds with each other – a parent’s right not to vaccinate is at war with the community’s right to herd immunity – that is not right. Parents have the responsibility not to fall for anti-science conspiracy theories that tell them that to vaccinate their children is to give in to some outlandish plot. Parents have a responsibility to themselves, to their children, and to their community that demands that they vaccinate their children.

We hope that our community takes that responsibility to heart.

-JP