Baltimore, MD - Apr. 6, 2019 - At the end of last year, buried in a popular Google group for orthodox women in the Baltimore community, was a post informing women of an upcoming teleconference by the Akeres Habayis hotline about the measles. Adena Friedman Cohen, a school nurse from Baltimore, called in and was appalled at the misinformation being presented to concerned mothers who were trying to keep their children safe amidst a new measles outbreak. She was so concerned that she posted an overview of the call to a facebook group for the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association (OJNA) a national organization of over 2000 frum nurses, along with the words, “what can we do?”. She found she wasn’t the only one concerned.
Along with other OJNA nurses who were being approached by anxious parents and concerned community leaders, she joined the OJNA emergency Vaccine Task Force formed under the leadership of Blima Marcus DNP, ANP-BC, RN, OCN. The Task Force nurses set out to identify and examine the sources of information the affected communities were exposed to and to gather the most up to date and accurate evidence about vaccines and infectious diseases.
They learned that there is a strong and flourishing group of anti-vaccine activists that has made very deep inroads into many Ultra-Orthodox communities by using hotlines, Whatsapp chats, and a very professional appearing pamphlet. OJNA nurses were appalled at the misinformation and fear-mongering they found rampant in these media. The Akeres Habayis hotline features inspirational speakers and practical advice on home making, and then conveniently intersperses lectures from well-known anti-vaccine activists. The chat groups are echo chambers where any questioning of anti-vaccine sentiment is silenced. Most influential of all is a handbook titled Parents Educated and Advocating for Children’s Health (P.E.A.C.H.) which declares itself “The Vaccine Safety Handbook: An Informed Parent’s Guide”. Filled with cartoons, diagrams and quotes from purportedly official sources, the pamphlet is actually a slick source of anti-vaccination propaganda . The OJNA nurses knew they had to do something.
In warm living room settings, small groups of OJNA nurses met with vaccine hesitant mothers, welcoming their concerns and allaying their fears. The nurses came not to judge or convince, but to present evidence-based information and empower the women to make informed decisions on their own. It’s woman to woman, mother to mother. The first such meeting, held in Lakewood, was scheduled to last 2 hours. It lasted 6. Though currently these sessions have only been held in the NY/NJ area, local OJNA nurses are open to running such a session in Baltimore if there is interest, and potentially host other educational forums.
In addition to the in-person meetings, the OJNA Task Force nurses have invested hundreds of hours in examining and refuting the inaccuracies and misconstrued data that comprises much of the PEACH manual. The nurses have worked line by line, page by page. They looked up every study cited by P.E.A.C.H. and referenced every quote. They are currently working on a booklet of their own, P.I.E. (Parents Informed and Educated), that verifies or refutes every single claim in the P.E.A.C.H. handbook. They plan to disseminate this publication, now in the final stages of editing, to the communities that have been most fiercely targeted by the P.E.A.C.H. promoters with the hope that this counter booklet will mitigate some of the damage already done. The OJNA recently launched a GoFundMe page to assist with raising funds to print and circulate P.I.E.. Those interested can learn more at https://www.gofundme.com/publish-the-work-of-the-ojna-vaccine-task-force.
The nurses of the OJNA Vaccine Task Force can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org