Religion, Judaism, and the challenge of maintaining an adequately immunized population

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Abstract

A slow but steady trend to decline routine immunization has evolved over the past few decades, despite its pivotal role in staving off life-threatening communicable diseases. Religious beliefs are among the reasons given for exemptions. In the context of an overview of various religious approaches to this issue, this article addresses the Jewish religious obligation to immunize. The latter is nested in the more general obligation to take responsibility for one’s health as it is essential to living a morally productive life. Furthermore, the individual’s responsibility extends to supporting communal health by contributing to herd immunity. Judaism embraces evidence-based information regarding immunization safety and efficacy and holds the resulting professional guidelines to be religiously binding. From a Jewish perspective, government bodies need to weigh respect for individual autonomy to refrain from immunization against preserving public safety, such that waiving autonomy should be reserved for immediately life-threatening situations. Nurses’ knowledge and understanding of the Jewish legal approach as explicated in this article and those of other religions in which similar principles apply (such as Islam and Christianity) can enrich their awareness of how revering God can go hand in hand with an obligation to prevent illness for the self and the community by immunizing.

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