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Hackney measles outbreak: Disease hits more than 260 in six months, many of them from Haredi Jewish community

PUBLISHED: 15:34 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:34 10 April 2019

268 people have contracted measles in Hackney in six months. Picture: PA Archive

268 people have contracted measles in Hackney in six months. Picture: PA Archive

PA Archive/Press Association Images

There have been a staggering 268 confirmed cases of measles in Hackney since last October, the Gazette can reveal.

Voice of reason: Rabbi Avrohom Pinter. Picture: Max Nash/PA ArchiveVoice of reason: Rabbi Avrohom Pinter. Picture: Max Nash/PA Archive

According to Public Health England these cases have been “primarily but not exclusively” in the north of the borough and within the Haredi Jewish community.

The Hackney figure is by far the highest in north London, dwarfing the second worst affected borough – Haringey which has had 54 cases in the same time period.

A Public Health England (PHE) spokesperson explained the outbreak was being driven among the Haredi community and particularly due to a low number of children having received the requisite two doses of the MMR vaccine.

PHE’s own statistics show that only 69.7pc of five year-olds in Hackney and the City have received two doses of the vaccine.

PHE confirmed the outbreak in the orthodox Haredi Jewish community in both Hackney and southern Haringey had been connected to travel to Israel last year.

The number of measles cases is likely to be higher as the figures supplied only include confirmed instances of the disease, not those deemed probable.

Cllr Feryal Demirci, Hackney Council’s health lead, said: “I am really proud of the amazing response by our local health partners to mobilise quickly to respond to the recent outbreak – by working closely with Public Health England and funding extra clinics across the borough.

“We will also be running a campaign to remind families of the importance of keeping up to date with childhood immunisations.”

Dr Anita Bell, a consultant at Public Health England’s local Health Protection Team, said: “Measles is an unpleasant disease and one in every ten people who get the disease end up in hospital with complications and sadly one in every thousand die. The MMR vaccine is safe and free.

“Measles spreads very easily amongst anyone who has not had two doses of MMR, particularly children, and this is why large outbreaks can occur in local communities.

Both the council and PHE confirmed they had seen an increase in take-up of the second childhood MMR vaccine since the outbreak began.

Jon Williams, executive director of independent watchdog Healthwatch Hackney, said: “I support the continued efforts by the local NHS and others including the community itself to encourage the take up of the vaccine.

“We know a lot of effort has been put into managing this outbreak and hope the recent uptake in vaccination soon results in the reduction of measles cases.”

Rabbi Avrohom Pinter said: “What we encourage that everybody should vaccinate unless there is a good reason not to vaccinate.

“Within every community there are people who have weakened immune systems and for medical reasons cannot vaccinate, and therefore they could be very vulnerable if they caught measles and it could be life-threatening for them. Therefore it’s incumbent on everybody to vaccinate.

“It is a well established Jewish value that one has to not only take responsibility for themselves but needs to take responsibility for others as well.”

On the relatively low uptake figures in the Haredi community, he added: “We have been working very hard to increase the uptake and that has been partially successful but there’s still a lot of work to do.

“You know there are rumours around. But the evidence is overwhelming that the risks are minimal, and when I say that I mean the risks of not taking them heavily outweighs of any downside.

“Some people are reluctant. In our community there was a rumour a particular child became deaf as a result of the vaccination, and I personally checked out the case. I was initially told that within 24 hours the child went deaf and I found it was totally unfounded.

“There was a case where a child became deaf a year later, but there was no evidence this was a result of having the vaccination.”

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