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MONSEY, N.Y. — An ultra-Orthodox rabbi falsely described the measles outbreak amongst Jews as half of an elaborate plan concocted by Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York to deflect consideration from “more serious” illnesses introduced by Central American migrants.
A pediatrician questioned whether or not Jews have been being deliberately given “bad lots” of vaccines that ended up giving kids a brand new pressure of the virus. And Andrew Wakefield, the British physician whose examine linking measles vaccines with autism was broadly discredited and condemned, appeared by way of Skype to supply an nearly apocalyptic imaginative and prescient of a world through which vaccines have been giving rise to deadlier immunization-resistant illnesses.
“We Hasidim have been chosen as the target,” mentioned the rabbi, Hillel Handler. “The campaign against us has been successful.”
Since the measles outbreak started final fall, the well being authorities have launched into a sweeping and exhaustive marketing campaign, repeatedly urging folks to get vaccinated and combating the unfold of misinformation. They have made particular efforts within the ultra-Orthodox communities of Brooklyn and Rockland County, N.Y., the place the illness has been spreading most rapidly.
But the rally on Monday in Monsey, a Rockland County hamlet about 30 miles northwest of New York City, vividly illustrated how the anti-vaccine fervor is just not solely enduring, however could also be rising: Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews packed a ballroom for a “vaccine symposium” with leaders of the anti-vaccination motion.
Organized by a Monsey-based Jewish group, the occasion additionally confirmed how the motion was gaining floor: Greg Mitchell, a Washington-based lobbyist who represents the Church of Scientology, attended the assembly and addressed the gang, providing to be their “voice in the public-policy game.”
The gathering was denounced by native elected officers, well being authorities and a few ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who mentioned the audio system have been spreading propaganda that may trigger the outbreak to deepen, risking the well being of numerous folks.
The occasion was held in a big ballroom. As is customary at ultra-Orthodox gatherings, the boys have been separated by an improvised wall from the ladies. Speakers have been launched and applauded as in the event that they have been celebrities.
The remarks — and the rapt viewers — illustrated how the anti-vaccination motion can exploit worry and nervousness inside comparatively insular communities, particularly spiritual ones, to undercut scientifically sound warnings from well being specialists.
“They are doubling down and increasing their messaging — capitalizing on fear,” Dr. Jane Zucker, the assistant commissioner of immunization for the New York City well being division, mentioned in an interview. “Parents are afraid of who and what to believe.”
Rabbi Handler, a 77-year-old from Brooklyn who mentioned he was a Holocaust survivor, set the tone for the night time, claiming that Jews have been being persecuted as illness carriers and have been being attacked on the road in New York City for sneezing. (The Anti-Defamation League has strongly objected to the appropriation of Holocaust symbols by vaccine critics.)
Mr. de Blasio has issued a public health emergency for four ZIP codes in Brooklyn where ultra-Orthodox Jews live. That decision appeared to have earned him the ire of Rabbi Handler, who described Mr. de Blasio as a “sneaky fellow” and a closet German — “Wilhelm, his real name, was named after Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.”
(In fact, none of this is true. Mr. de Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm Jr., and later decided to take his mother’s last name as his own after becoming alienated from his father.)
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Rabbi Handler sought to soften his anti-vaccine remarks.
“I don’t mind if someone takes a vaccine. It’s not my business,” he said. “What am I, a fascist? Am I going to bring down the law?”
The pediatrician who spoke on Monday night, Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, is regularly cited in pamphlets circulated in New York City that urge women not to get their children vaccinated. His views have no basis in science, experts said.
At the rally, he talked at length about mutating viruses and falsely claimed that failed vaccines were producing a new strain of measles. Women scribbled into notepads as he spoke. Others filmed his comments, sending them to their contacts on WhatsApp. Essentially, he said, there were no studies available to show how the vaccine affects the human body.
“Is it possible that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine that is somehow being given in this lot to communities in Williamsburg and Lakewood and Monsey, maybe in Borough Park, is it possible that these lots are bad?” he asked, referring to areas in New York and New Jersey with large ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.
“It’s fascinating because we’re told how contagious the disease is, but somehow it’s centered in the Jewish community.”
Dr. Palevsky could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Mr. Wakefield, who was stripped of his medical license in his native Britain some two decades ago for fraudulent claims linking vaccines to autism, accused the health authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of misleading the public. But before doing that, he insisted on his own innocence.
“I wanted to reassure you that I have never been involved in scientific fraud,” he said via Skype from a darkened room, his face appearing eerily white as it was projected onto two large overhead screens. “What happened to me is what happens to doctors who threatened the bottom line of the pharmaceutical companies.”
Rockland County has the highest number of recorded cases after New York City. But there are other pockets of large outbreaks as well, and not all of them in are in religious communities.
The C.D.C. said on Monday that the number of measles reported across the country rose by 75 last week, bringing the total to 839 in 23 states, the highest number of cases the United States has seen since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.
New York City alone has seen 498 confirmed cases of the disease since September. In the rest of New York state, there have been 274 confirmed cases, according to official figures. About 80 percent of those cases were located in Rockland County.
New York authorities have used a number of tactics to force people to get immunized, including excluding unvaccinated children from going to schools with low vaccination rates or threatening thousand-dollar fines on parents for failing to vaccinate their children.
The strategies have been largely successful, health officials have insisted, even though there have been setbacks.
In Rockland County, for example, a state of emergency declaration in March that banned unvaccinated children from public spaces was challenged by parents and halted after a judge ruled that the outbreak did not legally merit an emergency declaration.
The county executive, Ed Day, issued a new declaration last month that sought to prevent people who were exposed to measles from being in public places.
Local officials, including Mr. Day and Rabbi Chaim Schabes, expressed outrage in a joint statement at the “outsiders” who organized Monday’s rally and “are targeting our community.”
“Tonight’s event and the misinformation being shared at it runs counter to every statement from the medical experts and elected officials of our county,” the statement read.
“This type of propaganda endangers the health and safety of children within our community and around the world, and must be denounced in the strongest language possible.”