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How Quick Communication Helps In Vaccination


A measles outbreak that began in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York has now spread to orthodox communities in Michigan. As Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports, quick communication is helping to convince people to get vaccinated if they aren't already.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Nestled among the Starbucks and CBS Pharmacies in Southfield and Oak Park are clusters of Orthodox synagogues and Hebrew schools. There's a deli here on almost every corner. The man who visited here after catching measles in New York visited a lot of them, including a kosher grocery store, a yeshiva and Congregation Yagdil Torah, where I meet David Shapero.

DAVID SHAPERO: I generally study here in the mornings. And I was studying. I think it was on Tuesday. And there was somebody that I didn't recognize sitting nearby who was coughing his head off.

SAMILTON: Shapero says it's not unusual to see a stranger at the synagogue. There's a Jewish hospitality house right across the street. He didn't want to be rude.

SHAPERO: Well, after a minute or two, when I saw the coughing was incessant, I picked up with the fellow that I was studying with, and we moved a few tables away so that I thought I'd be out of range.

SAMILTON: Turns out that stranger was the one with measles. Health officials are not releasing his name. Measles is extremely contagious. You can catch it two hours after an infected person has left a room. But Shapero had measles when he was 4, so he thinks he'll be OK. Doctor Gary Ross of Beaumont Hospital is also a member of this synagogue. He says of course there are pockets of Orthodox Jews living here who aren't vaccinated and who don't vaccinate their kids. But...

GARY ROSS: The vast majority of our community, in terms of the members of the Orthodox synagogues, are vaccinated.

SAMILTON: Ross found out about the measles case just like everyone else. In a matter of hours, text messages and emails sent by synagogues and schools spread the message to Orthodox Jews in Southfield and Oak Park. Since then, for the most part, county health officials say vaccinations are picking up.

That wasn't initially the case in Rockland County, N.Y., where the man likely contracted measles. There, seven people visiting from Israel spread measles throughout the Orthodox community. John Lyon works for Rockland County's communications department. He says rabbis urged people to vaccinate their kids, and that helped. But as the outbreak worsened...

JOHN LYON: We started excluding children who weren't vaccinated from school. So they had to stay home for their own protection from this disease.

SAMILTON: Lyon hastens to add that the lowest vaccination rates they found were not actually in the Orthodox Jewish schools. They were in others, including private Christian schools. That's the same situation here. And that's why Dr. Russell Faust, Oakland County, Michigan's, medical director, is not as worried about the Orthodox Jewish kids as he is the others.

RUSSELL FAUST: Their communication network is so great, they're all informed probably by now, right now. I'm worried about the folks that aren't in that community but, you know, have been exposed.

SAMILTON: It's too soon to know how many people in Michigan are going to contract measles from this one person. As many as 95 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to measles contract it. So as Rockland County, N.Y., gets close to eradicating its outbreak, Oakland County, Mich., is just beginning. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.