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Brandy Zadrozny

The Epidemic of Unscientific Anti-Vaxxism

The false messages that they say convinced hundreds of New Yorkers not to vaccinate their children weren’t spread in a Facebook group or on YouTube, but through a glossy magazine written by and for Orthodox Jewish parents…

“The Vaccine Safety Handbook” looks legitimate but is filled with wild conspiracy theories and inaccurate data. Published by an anonymously led group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health, or PEACH, the handbook disputes the well established dangers of illnesses like measles and polio, challenges the effectiveness of vaccines in eradicating those illnesses, and likens the U.S. government’s promotion of vaccines to the medical atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Yet according to New York State’s Department of State and internet domain registration records, PEACH appears to be linked both to a decade-old misinformation hotline targeting the Orthodox community and to Enriched Parenting, a website that peddles new-age cures from a Jewish perspective alongside vaccine hoaxes.

Enriched Parenting’s website features retouched photos of children picking flowers in fields of lavender alongside articles that explain how concern over the measles outbreak is overblown. There are articles about how to beat back-to-school blues and treat urinary tract infections with herbs. There is also a forum where members trade sourdough recipes and alternative cancer treatments.

It’s not just trendy, it’s effective. Research shows combining vaccine misinformation with alternative medicine, homeopathy and diet content this way is one of the most pervasive and persuasive techniques used by anti-vaccination advocates to forward their agenda. “When a piece of misinformation is linked to other beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors that one already accepts, that misinformation becomes easier to understand and accept,” said Meghan Bridgid Moran, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And anti-vaccine websites can leverage this…”

In 2017, members of Pittsburgh’s Orthodox Jewish community— which has largely embraced vaccinations—complained on Facebook that PEACH was targeting their neighborhoods by mailing out unsolicited copies of the handbook.

BRANDY ZADROZNY, NBCNews.com, April 12, 2019.