Anonymous anti-vaxxers push propaganda on local Orthodox community
The purported Jewish organization sent a 40-page anti-vaccine booklet that cites rabbis questioning the obligation to vaccinate children, links vaccines to physical harm and death.
An unwelcome package arrived in the mailboxes of many members of Pittsburgh’s Orthodox community last month — a 40-page anti-vaccination booklet titled “The Vaccine Safety Handbook,” published by a purported Jewish organization called PEACH (Parents Teaching and Advocating for Children’s Health).
The pamphlet, whose authors and editors hide behind pseudonyms, is filled with spurious “facts” that refute hard scientific studies, including long-refuted claims that vaccines are linked to autism.
The final page of the handbook bears an inscription of dedication to a child who “passed away from SIDS three days after her DTaP vaccine.”
Attempts by the Chronicle to reach PEACH for comment were unsuccessful. In a curt email response, a representative from the organization referred only to the handbook, calling it “comprehensive” and did not respond to an inquiry as to how it obtained its Pittsburgh mailing list.
The extensive booklet not only cites various rabbis questioning the obligation to vaccinate children, but also advances anecdotes and statistics in an attempt to connect vaccinations to physical harm and death. More here.
A a 40-page booklet about vaccines that’s been circulating in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Borough Park neighborhoods is Public Health Enemy No. 1.
Called “The Vaccine Safety Handbook: A Handbook for Parents,” the magazine comes across as an official publication, cleanly designed and sporting extensive footnotes citing scientific studies. Published by Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health, the booklet is commonly known as the “PEACH magazine” and has been passed among friends and relatives in ultra-Orthodox—also known as Haredi—communities.
And cover to cover, it’s full of misinformation about vaccines.
“When I got my hands on a copy…I realized this was a piece of anti-vaccination propaganda,” said Marcus, a nurse practitioner at Memorial Sloan Kettering and adjunct professor of nursing at Hunter College.
Amid the largest measles outbreak in nearly 30 years, and a rise in vaccine hesitancy within the ultra-Orthodox community, Blima and other members of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association decided to do something about it. They have been compiling a book of their own to respond to PEACH’s assertions, which is slated for publication in the next few weeks.
“We decided to be a little tongue and cheek and call it PIE, Parents Informed and Educated,” Marcus said. There’s a rotten peach on the front cover.
She blames the PEACH magazine, and the hotline also run by the group, for the spread of fears about vaccines in their communities. Marcus realized the influence the PEACH book had while she was giving presentations about vaccines in living rooms for groups of Orthodox moms; she found the book spooked many of them. They had questions about the book’s claims, but they weren’t getting their questions answered at the doctors office.
Published by Orthodox Jews, the booklet is targeted to ultra-Orthodox Jews, with excerpts from the Torah, bits written in Hebrew, and a letter signed by several rabbis from Lakewood, New Jersey, and Philadelphia in support of parents of unvaccinated children.
This type of slickly produced misinformation from anti-vaccination groups is familiar to Sean O’Leary, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, who specializes in vaccines and vaccine preventable illnesses at Children’s Hospital Colorado. He says he’s seen the claims in the PEACH magazine used by anti-vaccination groups across the country for years.
“They use these sort of leaps of logic if you’re not really paying attention and you don’t live in this world of reviewing scientific literature it’s very easy to miss,” O’Leary said. “I absolutely understand how parents get taken in by this. They’re trying to do what’s best for their children and these misinformed pamphlets; they play on parents’ fears.”
But O’Leary added, the same thing that made the PEACH manual so dangerous, might make the PIE book by the group of nurses a success.
“This was being shared parent to parent. You get it from a trusted friend you think, ‘Oh this must be true,’” he said. “So the fact that people within the community around the community are helping dispel those myths I think is very powerful.”
One of the contributing researchers to the PEACH manual is Barbara Loe Fisher, who co-founded National Vaccine Information Center, a group that lobbies against mandatory vaccination laws. Contributing editor Moishe Kahan, who lives in Williamsburg, helped facilitate the PEACH group’s conference calls, according to two doctors who were contacted by him. When reached by Gothamist/WNYC at his Williamsburg apartment, he threatened a reporter with arrest, adding, “I have no interest in talking to fake news reporters.” Read the full summary here from the Gothamist.
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