Letter: Why I don’t hate people who don’t vaccinate

Since everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts, let’s get started with a few verifiable ones:

  • Vaccines have, over the course of several decades, eliminated many potentially deadly diseases. In their heyday, smallpox, polio, and yes, measles, killed or disabled thousands annually.
  • Vaccines are studied extensively, and serious side effects, while concerning, are incredibly rare.

Are you with me still?


Here’s the thing: not everything that makes great public policy is right for every individual. Eminent medical thinker and Harvard professor Jerome Groopman, MD, illustrates this point elegantly in his book Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What is Right for You. For every 300 patients at risk of heart attack who take cholesterol-lowering statins, one death is prevented. In other words, in a group of 300 patients, 297 will be fine with or without the medication, two will have a heart attack and may die anyway, and one person who would otherwise have died will live.

On the other hand, 5% of patients will suffer some unpleasant side effects from the drug, including severe muscle and joint pain and gastrointestinal distress. In other words, patients are 15 times more likely to suffer side effects than they are to be helped by the drug. Is the 1-in-300 chance of life-saving efficacy reason enough to take it? If you’re treating thousands of patients, which translates into dozens of lives saved, the answer seems simple: of course you should prescribe it. But for every individual, the calculus may be different. He may prioritize his quality of life over a small potential reduction of risk. Again: not everything that makes great public policy is right for every individual.

Let’s get back to those pesky vaccines. Do vaccines save lives? You bet.

At the same time, no honest medical professional will tell you that vaccines are totally without risk. True, the risks are small, but in today’s world, so is the likelihood of permanent disability from contracting a vaccine-preventable disease (Fact: about 37,000 Americans die in car crashes every year, which is about 6 times the number of measles deaths reported annually at the height of the measles epidemics in the early 20th century. Cars are far more dangerous than measles).

Whether due to prior bad experiences, genetic factors, or concerns about vaccines’ safety, not every person will consider actively administering a potentially harmful shot to be in their best interests. Are people entitled to make that decision for themselves, if it impacts the community?

As with any issue in our lives, we examine the vaccine question through the lens of Torah. What level of risk is considered pikuach nefesh? What level of risk is a miut hamatzui? If there are two options that both entail some level of risk, is a proactive approach indicated, or shev v’al taaseh? Is someone obligated to give a vaccine that they consider risky in order to contribute to herd immunity?

Different poskim reach different conclusions with regard to these issues.

If a posek determines that vaccination is not mandated as reasonable hishtadlus, it is the height of arrogance to assume he did not consult experts or understand the issue before paskening. While no person is infallible, the least credit we can give talmidei chachamim is to trust that they are not less capable of understanding basic facts than your average layman.

If, after carefully examining the issue, discussing the topic with their doctor, and seeking guidance from a posek, a family concludes that CDC-scheduled vaccination is not what the Torah requires from them, they are not rodfim, idiots, or selfish. If they follow the Health Department’s exclusion guidelines and don’t send their kids to cough on your dinner, they may reasonably choose their own level of acceptable risk.

Can we find it in our hearts to understand that each person does his best to understand Hashem’s will, and that although we may not all agree on the correct interpretation of Hashem’s directives, each person must follow his conscience? That intelligent people may reach different conclusions based on the same data? That one person’s fears may not be the same as his neighbor’s?

There are strident, self-righteous voices on both sides of this debate. There are people on both sides who rely on dubious sources and scare tactics. By all means, point out logical flaws, proffer better arguments, and provide up-to-date statistics. But do it with respect for others’ intelligence and goodwill. Gentle discussion is far more productive than name-calling, which only closes people’s ears to your argument.

My friends, I beg you, whichever position you take, please see the “other” as a fellow Jew, searching and yearning to do what is right in Hashem’s eyes.

May we all make our choices wisely, with understanding and humility, and be zoche to the bracha of the Ultimate Healer: אִםשָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע לְקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְהַאֲזַנְתָּ לְמִצְוֺתָיו, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ כָּלחֻקָּיוכָּלהַמַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁרשַׂמְתִּי בְמִצְרַיִם, לֹאאָשִׂים עָלֶיךָ, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, רֹפְאֶךָ.

Nechama T.

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  1. Firstly, I don’t think anyone is talking to those people who were adversely effected by vaccines. It’s the large percentage of people who “for no reason” decides to be part if the anti vaxxer cult.
    Secondly, I think it’s time everyone just quit all the hock and only post relevant updates from OCHD or CDC etc. Not everyone opinions back and forth. Zei gezunt!!

  2. Thank you lakewood scoop for posting this and thank you to the letter writer. Respect and shalom is the key to end this measles outbreak. This machlokes has gone way too far, lets all work together to correct it and bring a zechus to all of us.

  3. I think you are missing the point. In the case of statin medicine no one is putting anyone else in danger. the choice to take it or not only effects the one making the decision for themselves. In the case of vaccination you are endangering others that may not have a choice in the matter. Children under the age of a year (or 6 months now) people that have a problem with their immune system (cancer etc) when you decide not to vaccinate you put those people in danger. Gedolei yisroel such as Rav elyashiv and others have already said said that you are a rodef and rotzeach so yes I do hate those that put us in danger.

  4. The fact stands that anti-vaxers did NOT consult with a reputable doctor to come to their conclusion!
    Name any reputable local doctor who would tell someone not to vaccinate MMR.

    Of course you won’t name the Doctors, since there are none.

    The fact stands that our community is being hit with measels now.
    We are a very tight-nit people, therefore any official numbers of potential exposure are even greater.



    I will explain.

    Until this outbreak as a general community we did not call anyone rodfim or selfish eventhough in general the anti-vaxers were relying on our immunity.
    However now that there is a local outbreak the mere fact that they will not take the slightest risk (from their standpoint) to take just the MMR shots now is just mind boggeling.

  5. I’m enthusiastically pro vaccine. The author expressed my sentiments exactly. There are bonafide poskim who have concluded differently then Rav Elyashiv. Kach hi darka shel Torah. The hyperbole is out of hand. Let’s make our case with our words. Instead od shouting down anybody who sees things differently even if they are wrong.

  6. Its a pity that everyone is using so much stress and worry up being nervous for their newborns – as per Dr Shanik, as long as the mother had both shots babies under 6 months are immune from pregnancy.

    • If you read the article, we know that there are big poskim that say to vaccinate, but there are also those that adamantly tell people not to vaccinate. (I would name a big one, but the TLS moderator only lets you name rabbanim on one side of this debate.)

    its about time!!!!
    thank you lakewood scoop for posting this!!!!
    itwas so apropriate!!!
    i AGREREEE 100000% with her.
    and who ever doesnt, Your just proving to everyone that ur arguing and fighting about this for ZERO reason! just to have fuN!!!
    all those now writing “well the anti vaxxxers this and this” STOP!
    u dont kow lwhta people do because your not an anti vaxxerr so stop making up what theese anti vaxxers are doing and are not doing!!

  8. Wow! Beautifully written! Couldnt have said it better myself
    Would like to add that most anti vaxxers are ex-vaxxers
    There is no one that stopped vaccinating for no reason
    And i personally dont know anyone that is relying on herd immunity from the vaccinated. I know i am not.
    I also know that although i have very deep convictions and really good reason not to vaccinate, i have been forced – yes forced to give my child the mmr vaccine. He was sent out of school and i dont have the option of staying home with him.
    There are real dangers in vaccinating and they are not as rare as you would like to think. Proof is in the amount of ppl that dont vaccinate. They all have a story with vaccines.
    May you never see a bad reaction on your own children!!!!

  9. I really don’t get why people bring things from gdolim but only things that they like , are we always follow psak from Rav Elyashiv ? How about shaving or etc ? How come on everything else we find it’s ok to listen to other rabbonim ?
    Also can someone post the actual letter from Rav Elyashiv please

  10. Her point is lets have this discussion in a respectful way. If you liked this article you certainly shouldn’t be posting with an angry bitter tone. Rav moshe Soloveitzik from switserland was an acknowledged tsadik and talmid chochom. He instructed his family not to vax. I’m very pro vaccs but I would never characterize him as selfish.

  11. The letter writer seems to have overlooked two very important points

    A) in the case of heart medication, if one chooses not to take medication in order to avoid side effects, they effect no one but themselves. Unlike vaccines, where the effect carries over to other people.

    B) Comparing car accidents to measles is ludicrous!!

    One is an accident, and one is intentional!!

    • Agree.
      I’m not understanding why everyone is getting so excited with this article..
      What right does one have to make these decisions on their own, if there is no Dr. or Gadol that approves their decision, when it can affect other people around them.

      Secondly, the fact that more people die in car accidents than measles. the same too… more people die in car accidents than have the side effects from vaccines ( I mean the real side effects that Dr.’s agree to)

    • Thank you for reading my letter!
      I did not overlook those points, but I guess I wasn’t so clear.
      A) Of course vaccination is different than heart medicine because it impacts communal health. The point I was trying to illustrate is that the public’s best interests and the individual’s best interests may not always coincide. The CDC needs to recommend what’s best for the community, but an individual must do what’s best for himself. If what’s best for the community is potentially harmful to the individual–even if the potential harm is very unlikely–that’s a question for a posek, Must one risk personal harm for the greater good? Not all poskim think so.
      B) the reference to car crashes was simply to show that people are very frightened of a risk that is relatively much smaller than other risks they face daily. Most people don’t live their lives in fear of death by car crash. Cowering in fear of the measles is, perhaps, a little disproportionate.
      I assume you still won’t agree with me, and that’s fine.
      Thank you for keeping the discourse civil.

      • Well said . Just imagine ,if you active pro vax and own child would have bad reaction on the vaccine and get very sick , would you change ( a little bit) attitude to community versus personal safety ? Just for real ?Would you be blame antivax as same as before . Harming of the vaccine in some cases is real ( look on the insert , what come with any drug ampule and what written in small print) . Drag company won’t take responsibility , Dr . also is not, You , the parent have to deal with this if something go wrong .

      • Regarding
        A) If that was your point, your analogy to heart medication was still off target. The issue with heart medication has nothing to do with the public interest vs. communal interest. It has to do with the severity of the side effects relative to the severity of a heart attack.

  12. Nechama – I’m Not going to address your point of defending Anti-vaxxers in general, but when there is an epidemic, e/o needs to be vaccinated or they should move to Guatemala!

  13. While I’m all for respectful discourse, this is a very weak argument. Not vaccinating can affect others some of them very vulnerable. Not taking a specific medication affects only oneself.

  14. The outcry is not that you have to vaccinate… but rather if you don’t (for whatever reason) then please stay away from everyone and public places at least until this epidemic is over…

    The outcry and resentment is when people start for example bringing lawyers and lawsuits to try and force their view on all those that don’t agree with them…

    The outcry and frustration is when people see this sickness spreading through our community and are only refusing to get vaccinated or at least stay away from the public to help stop this epidemic because of the pressures they are facing to keep up the fight…

    Therefore although I agree with the letter writer 100% that people absolutely have the right to not vaccinate themselves I disagree though that once they make that decision for themselves that everyone now has to make believe that they are not a danger to others just because they made the right decision for themselves…

    they are a danger to others and those others especially when they are a super majority have the right to ask them to stay away at least until this outbreak is declared over and they should have the decency and courtesy to listen to the majority and stop spreading this outbreak just to prove that you’re not wrong

  15. First a question: Why is the recent increase in autism blamed on vaccinations – why isn’t it blame on all the artificial food colorings, flavoring, pesticides, hormone-injected chickens, microwaves, cell phone towers and the myriad of other unhealthy lifestyle habits of our generation?

    I know there are studies of children having horrible reactions when many shots were given at a time and I therefore don’t like to give my children more than 4 shots at a time. All the doctors I dealt with were fine spacing out the shots a little more.

    Another thought: I remember seeing one person comment on the TLS that she usually does not vaccinate but she did give her children the MMR shot now because there is an epidemic. I greatly admire her for going against what she believed in to do what was right. Measles in a healthy person can pass without incident and in the mind of some parents, the risk of the shot’s possible side-effect is greater than the risk of the complications that might arise should that person contract measles. However, unfortunately, there are many people among us who are not healthy. For those with compromised immune systems, complications from measles can be fatal r’l. At a time when there is an epidemic in our community, herd immunization is the only way to prevent this from spreading and ensure the health and safety of all our brothers and sisters. Like the writer of this letter, I don’t believe anti-vaxxers are evil and those who are willing to look beyond their fear and realize the importance of getting this one vaccination will surely see only bracha from their sacrifice.

  16. Dear still missing the point.
    You are correct and I got the point from you.
    Noone needs to vaccinate if they dont want to but please dont continue to mix with the public and keep the outbreak moving.
    You made a choice not to vaccinate-fine.
    But dont pass germs to my baby or my sick neighbor.
    The other week Lakewood scoop posted that one person affected was by a wedding hall all night long!
    Unfair unfair unfair!! Think of all the infants and small children…hopefully everyone there was healthy with a strong immune system!!!!
    You wanna stick by your shitos?!?! Fine. But please dont make others sick in the process.

  17. While I understand that everyone has a right to choose, people somehow feel that is acceptable to put babies lives in danger but feel it is not okay to have an abortion. None of the anti-vaxxers live in complete isolation. I have no issue if anti-vaxxers choose to not vaccinate, but I do have an issue if they use the same stores, schools, or services as others because they are then making the choice to force their beliefs on others by potentially exposing innocent people to diseases that could kill them. Also, I feel 100% that if you choose that, you choose to deal with the repercussions which could include being sued or prison. Let’s give a hypothetical story though not completely since there have been babies killed due to being exposed to measles by anti-vaxxers. Let’s say someone spends 20,000 to 30,000 out of pocket to adopt or go through fertility and is lucky enough to have or adopt a baby. Then they take their sixth month old to the store where some anti-vaxxer has been recently, and that person has measles which exposes that child which then causes that child to die. Then logically the anti-vaxxer is legally liable. What if that was that womans only chance, what is that worth? That anti-vaxxer may have 5 kids, but the one woman may have only had the potential of one. What is the value of that child’s life? How do you put a value on any childs life? The same people who typically say that abortions are murder are the first to defend their right to not vaccinate. My feeling, is if you attribute that same logic, if you choose not vaccinate then you can become a murderer and should be judged as such. Yes there are side effects to vaccines as with anything, but you have more health issues from eating your bread and cereal from the glyphosate then from the vaccines yet I don’t see people avoiding grains in masses. Also it is known that pesticides can cause autism whereas vaccines do not so maybe people should actually really do their research.

  18. Nechama really nice well written letter however please answer the main question how can you send these children to our schools or go to a wedding hall or satmar and subject the masses to your own conclusion when it will detrimental to us all ….of course if u want to move to Hawaii away from society then you have a great point….please answer as we all know you’re reading the comments

    • I don’t condone reckless behavior. Vaccinated or unvaccinated people with symptoms of illness should stay home.
      But the rest of us, who are scared of catching measles, need to remember that unvaccinated people are not the same thing as contagious people. The chances of any person you meet having the measles right now are one in a few thousand.
      People are especially concerned because measles is contagious even before the telltale rash appears. But 3-5 days before the rash, during those contagious days, the person will exhibit non-specific symptoms, like fever and a cough. So the odds of a regular healthy person transmitting measles are really, really low.
      While I personally took my kids to make sure they were up-to-date on MMR, we don’t need to fear healthy unvaccinated people.
      And now, I need to stop reading comments and get back to work, so I probably won’t check back here.

      • You really should have done some more research before typing the letter. Although I appreciate your halachic expertise, none of the issues you mentioned had anything to do with the reasoning R’ Elyashuv’s Psak.

        Furthermore, you posed the question as to whether one must risk personal harm for the benefit of the community. That is mis-leading for a number of reasons.

        It is scientifically misleading, because the vast majority of scientific and medical opinion is that it is for the individuals good as well. It is also misleading from a halachic standpoint, because of you listened to Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, who posed this question directly to R’ Elyashuv ZT”L, there is greater danger to an individual, when they go against the “normal behaviour” (with well over 90% of American children being vaccinated) than going with the behavior that is normal. that is also inline with R’ Yehuda HaChassid (although he was not saying it regarding halachah, rather hashkafah), that any actions which are not the norm, require extra S’yatta D’shmayah.

        You mention that there are Poskim who believe one should not vaccinate, who are these Poskim, and if they do exist, did they make thisPsak in a case where there is an active outbreak? Considering that we don’t even know who these poskim are, it is more than fair to question wether they were knowledgeable in the scientific and medical evidence regarding vaccinations.

        You also stated that even though measles is contagious prior to the rash appearing, there are other symptoms such as coughing or fever. This makes me wonder if you are around children much. On any given day, you can and likely will, have multiple children coughing in a classroom, particularly at this time of year.

        The fact that you mentioned “that as long as someone doesn’t send their child to cough….” that statement revealed an astounding ignorance regarding Measles on your part. Measles is one of the most highly contagious sicknesses known. The virus can linger for up to two hours after the infected person has left the room.

        As far as your comparison between measles and driving car, the distinction was also addressed by R’ Elyashuv.

        This claim of people following “their” pose, makes me wonder, how many people anti-vaxxers are actually following their “Posek” and how many went shopping for Psak? Do they ask this anonymous “Posek” other shailos, or is their adherence to his P’sokim limited to the vaccination issue? If the latter is the case, then they are not actually following halacha in this issue (Chayei Adam)

        I am glad that Nechama T in Lakewood has definitively stated that people who send un-vaccinated children to school are not rodfim, Others, who are from the Gedolai Haposkim in America, and are not afraid to sign their name to a letter, came to a different conclusion.

    • Considering that doctors have no idea what causes autism or even how to diagnose in many cases, I’m wondering how you know this so definitively.

    • The conversation now is about MMR shots not the Flu shot. Please don’t switch the conversation.
      If you like to switch the conversation I can discuss your screen name – Pro-choice

    • To clarify Dovids comment. THERE IS NO MERCURY IN THE Measles vaccine. I hope you do more research before making decisions that may effect the health of your children and others.

  19. This is contributing to the problem. The ONLY reason cars accidents kill more than measles is bc for decades we have been vaccinating and the need immunity has been strong. Anti vaxers are unweaving the protection now…. The above is 2018 I-will-do-it-my-way attitude that is so harmful…Lets look at the the correct way plz!

    • Nope. Check your facts. When measles began to be a reportable disease in 1912, there were an average of about 6,000 measles deaths annually in the US. Since then, measles deaths have only dropped, down to about 500 a year even before the vaccine was introduced in the 60’s, and traffic fatalities have only increased.

      • now we r playing number games. traffic fatalities cannot be 95% preventable. measles fatalities now Can be! Why have any Measles deaths when it is MOSTLY preventable thru vaccines. I’m assuming Fact Checker isn’t sitting at home with a 5 month old baby that is susceptible to disease now bc non-educated 20 yr old mothers are “choosing” to not vaccinate and spreading disease.

        • The death rate from all viruses went down through the early 1900s to less than 3% of what it was in the 1800s. This is a historical fact. Widespread vaccination did begin untill that time. Therefore, the vaccines did not bring down the DEATH rate. What brought them down? Better water systems, better nutrition etc.
          The vaccines may prevent many from getting the virus NOTICEABLY, but that is not necessarily an advantage, as getting the natural virus is better, and gives lifelong immunity. Also, the vaccines have numerous risks – one of them being the actual virus itself. Experts say that at best they’ve replaced one set of risks with another.

  20. @Debby
    Many anti-vaxers contracted the measels however they are remaining at home (hopefully) and not going to any doctors.

    I heard from a reputable source (however it is unconfirmed) that there are about 60 cases of measels in Lakewood, just not documented.

    • that may be true, i have no idea
      but i do know that measles was brought into lakewood by a fully vaccinated adult.
      so you are saying that appoximately 100 ppl in lakewood contracted the measles
      complications from measles as per the DOH is 30%
      so where are the horror stories? there should be 30 people suffering the horrible side effects of measles
      and in monsey there should be about the same
      and believe me if there would be any cases of horrible side effects it would be plastered all over the news

    • I know that because had they been unvaccinated we sure would have heard about it
      a friend of mine called the health department to find out how many cases were vaccinated and how many unvaccinated
      they said
      we can’t give out that information
      we don’t want to discourage anyone from vaccinating.
      call them yourself
      see what happens

  21. Mr. Fact Checker – AKA – Anti-vaxxer – You wrote 500 deaths a year before the vaccine came out. Since 2005 there have been only 8 deaths, so what changed if it wasn’t the vaccine?!?

  22. @ Auther and others.
    It was mentioned a few times that a Rav paskined in favor of not vaxinating.

    That is absolutely true.

    However the minority of Rabbanim being relied upon only paskined like that when there was no outbreak in our community.

    There is no reputable Rav who came out now during the outbreak with a psak that they should not get the MMR.

    If there is a Rav and/or Doctor that is still saying not to get the MMR shots please post their names.

    A Rav with a psak halacha Al pi derech HaTorah b’emes, will not hide behind a cover.

    Additionally even in the case that there is a Rav that will go k’neged ruba deruba d’Rabanim we have a mesorah to follow Ruba deRabanim.

    Furthermore in the scenario that a Rav continues to support not vaxinating at this time, due to the mai ulma argumemt, would he allow that person to potentially be mazik other people??

    It seems the only civil argument you presented is your belief that a person getting the shots has a slight chance of contracting an illness.
    Your argument does not seem to argue with the fact that by not being vaxinated it sky rockets the chances of contracting the disease.

    In that case that you cannot publicaly name a reputable Rav and/or Doctor which CONTINUE to say not to vaxinated now during the outbreak and say they have a full right to go to school – the only result a overwhelming majority of healthy minded people can conclude – is that we are dealing with selfish close-minded people.

  23. excellent post! You are 100% right. Everyone is entitled to make their own decision with their Rav and doctor and yes there are many many doctors adn rabanim who say not to or you dont have to vaccinate they just dont go public abut it cuz theyll lose thier license. Make an informed decision. I personally vaccinate but yes I made a conscious informed educated decision and do so although I understand there are risks on both sides.

  24. P: you are 100% wrong! There are NOT “many many doctors and rabbonim who say not to or you don’t have to.” You have just joined the group of people making wild unsubstantiated claims without one iota of evidence. You are also wrong that doctors who say that would lose their license-that is not grounds for losing a medical license; they would, however, probably lose their patients! And I don’t agree that everyone has a right to make their own decision -as Yidden, we don’t believe that. You don’t have a “right” to be mechallel shabbos. You MAY have the free choice to make the wrong decision; but you do not have the right to do it. It is also against Halacha to damage or potentially damage others. So, you don’t have the “right” to damage your children or other people. At the end of the day, if you use your free choice to make the wrong decision and not vaccinate, then you need to do the only responsible thing and keep unvaccinated people at home, away from other people, away
    From school, away from shul, etc.

    • when you said that “a group of people making wild unsubstantiated claims without one iota of evidence”
      i wonder what you are referring to.
      i can sit down and show you the evidence clear as day!!!!
      i wish someone can show me the evidence that vaccines are safe!!!
      I can show you lots of VACCINATED DAMAGED CHILDREN!!!!
      look at center – they are building a huge building – their school is growing
      look at schi
      these schools DID NOT EXIST 50 YEARS AGO
      i am not saying that every child there is vaccine damaged at all. there are many other reasons for kids to be there

  25. Everyone should read the proposed legislation going through the Knesset!-mandatory school exclusion for unvaccinated kids and mandatory educational program for parents who desire a waiver for their kids. Fantastic! Get in touch with your congressman and ask that they sponsor such a program in NJ/US!

    • Israel currently doesn’t have have any mandates for vaccines now. they encourage them very strongly in Tipat Chalav but there are no mandates. it looks like they are starting to put them into place.
      the USA has had mandates for years already.
      get your facts straight

  26. To: health yes you maybe right that the vaccines cut down the cases of deaths but since the vaccine came out, the autistic rate jumped rapidly and is continuing till this very day to grow si by saying that it almost cut it down completely is worth the growth of autisim doesnt make sense

  27. I am so glad that Deborah was “forced” to get her child vaccinated! That’s one less child in Lakewood who runs the risk of getting measles and also of spreading it to others! Yasher koach to our school administrators for doing the responsible thing for our community!

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