A yellow sign with the words "NHS vaccination centre" displayed outside a building

Orthodox Jewish community tackling Hackney MMR vaccine rates

An Orthodox Jewish community group is mobilising to combat Hackney and the City of London’s low vaccination rate for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).

NHS data shows Hackney and the City of London have the lowest percentages of children vaccinated for MMR in 2022-2023 out of all London boroughs.

The Jewish Community Council (JCC) is working with Hackney Council to improve vaccination rates in the Orthodox Jewish, or Charedi, community.

JCC director Rabbi Levi Schapiro said: “It’s really important, because obviously it’s protecting the children.”

The JCC is a body which represents the Charedi community to the government, and supplies welfare services to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

Rabbi Schapiro said Hackney’s Charedi community’s low vaccination rates are because a typical Charedi family does not follow mainstream news, and because of the mixed information surrounding vaccine use.

Hackney and the City’s Director of Public Health Dr Sandra Husbands added that vaccine uptake is frustrated by a lack of awareness of how serious measles are.

She also said Hackney has high deprivation levels, containing densely populated areas with poor digital access, which contributes to vaccine hesitancy.

Data from the Borough of Hackney further shows that some communities delay vaccination under the misconception that children’s immune systems are not developed enough.

Consequently, for the last decade, Hackney’s vaccination rates have largely been below England’s average rates.

This trend is true across both MMR doses. 

MMR vaccines are administered when a child is one year old, and when they are between three years and four months and five years old.

As can be seen below, Hackney and the City of London’s 2023 vaccination rates were the lowest in London.

To remedy this problem, the JCC distributes information about vaccination in Hebrew and Yiddish.

It also provides vaccine clinics in synagogues and Jewish community centres, scheduling them for late evening or early morning to avoid interfering with residents’ work.

Rabbi Schapiro said: “We are a trusted source in the community, so people felt comfortable to hear what we had to say.”

Dr Husbands also explained that Hackney Council supports the NHS’ vaccine catch-up clinics.

According to Hackney Council, walk-in clinics on Sundays and in community centres delivered more than 3,000 childhood vaccinations between September 2022-2023.

The council furthermore offers services including community webinars about childhood immunisation, and wellbeing events in areas with the lowest vaccination rates.

Apart from collaborating with the Charedi community, the council also works closely with the Gypsy and Roma Traveller community, which also has lower MMR coverage. 

While Hackney’s vaccination rates have largely been in decline, Rabbi Schapiro states that these schemes have made good progress.

As evidence, he points to how 2019-2020’s MMR vaccination rate increased. 

The number of five-year-olds who received a complete MMR dosage rose by 3% in 2019-2020.

Moreover, in 2022-2023, the percentage of Hackney’s children who received their first dose by their second birthday has increased for the first time since 2020.

The year saw 68.1% of two-year-olds vaccinated for MMR, a 2.7% increase compared to 2018-2019.

Rabbi Schapiro attributes this to how the JCC worked to raise awareness of vaccination during the COVID period.

“It was a result of the work we did on the ground in the community,” he said.

To continue increasing Hackney’s vaccine uptake, Rabbi Schapiro hopes health authorities will provide more vaccination clinics at earlier or later hours or on Sundays.

He stated that allowing children and guardians to go to vaccination sites outside the working day would make MMR vaccination more accessible.

“We support the local NHS in their efforts to get as many children to receive the MMR, and we’re continuing this work on the ground, as we’re continuing to distribute this information,” Rabbi Schapiro said.

Dr Husbands added: “My message to all parents and carers in Hackney is, please get your child vaccinated.

“There are a number of local catch up clinics being offered to children between 4-11 years who may be overdue for their Polio and/or MMR immunisations.”

Any parent or guardian wishing to book a free vaccine for their child should call 0207 613 9044 or email [email protected].

Image credit: Sebastiandoe5 via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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