Measles outbreaks in Israel and in Orthodox communities along the East Coast have caused one Orthodox school in Northeast Ohio to revise its vaccine policy.
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights sent a letter to parents Nov. 15 informing them that, effective immediately, all students enrolled at Hebrew Academy needed to be vaccinated.
“After consultation with experts in the field, the Academy has modified its policy regarding vaccination,” said the letter, signed by the school’s educational director, Rabbi Simcha Dessler and school president Dr. Louis Malcmacher. “This is particularly important, as there are students in our school for whom it is medically unsafe to be vaccinated. Consequently, it is crucial that we ensure maximum vaccination rates across our student body.”
According to the letter, all students enrolled at Hebrew Academy are to be vaccinated, with only “an exception made to children whose physician certifies in writing that immunization against a disease is medically contraindicated and the reason for it is not required to be immunized against that disease.”
In addition, in the event of an outbreak, students who qualify for this exemption will not be allowed in school. Hebrew Academy, in consultation with the health department and medical advisers, will determine what constitutes an outbreak.
“We recognize that there are families that have strong views on both sides of this issue,” the letter said. “However, this is not an area where we can accommodate any deviation from this new protocol.”
Dessler told the Cleveland Jewish News that due to the proximity of Cleveland to the East Coast and frequent travel between the Jewish communities, there was a rising concern among the school’s leaders that an outbreak could spread, which resulted in the protocol change. He said parents have “overwhelmingly expressed their satisfaction” with the change.
“Our school leadership reacted quickly to changing circumstances, and it is our duty to safeguard our children,” Dessler said. “With this in mind, our executive board unanimously embraced this approach.”
At least one Hebrew Academy parent was enthusiastic about the change in protocol. Dr. Baruch Fertel, an emergency room physician at the Cleveland Clinic, said the policy was “a wonderful, proactive step.”
“I’ve spoken with many parents who are grateful for it,” said Fertel, a Cleveland Heights resident and member of Congregation Shomre Shabbos in Cleveland Heights. “I’ve spoken with friends who are scared they could go to a routine visit and ... could catch something (from someone who isn’t vaccinated). If we’re all vaccinated, it makes us safer. Vaccinations may not be 100 percent effective but they make us safer.”