The Ebola Virus; Potential Vaccinations and Halachic Implications
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For many centuries, contagious diseases devastated mankind. With the discovery of immunization to smallpox by Edward Jenner in 1796, global health changed forever. Since then, hundreds of vaccines have been developed. Diseases such as smallpox, polio, measles, and mumps have been eradicated either partially or totally. When the human body contracts a disease-causing germ, it produces antibodies and T-cells to counteract the invading germ. When familiar antigens are detected again, the body can quickly counter and inactivate the disease-causing germ. In this way, the body naturally develops immunity to a disease-causing germ already contracted. Vaccines work by mimicking an infection and stimulating the immune system to build defenses against them. Although vaccines are immensely beneficial to humankind, they do not come without any negative side effects. However, the adverse affects of vaccines are generally mild, such as soreness or stiffness at the injection site. From a Jewish law (or, halachic) perspective, it is questionable whether one should purposely inject a child with a disease-causing germ, albeit inactivated, which may constitute actively putting the child in danger. However, it is obvious that in Jewish law people are required to maintain good health. There are several arguments that vaccinations would not only be allowed according to halacha, but are mandated. Rav Elyashiv, a most prominent posek in our generation, maintained that routine immunizations are an obligation, as they are needed to ensure good health, both for an individual himself and for the greater community at large. The Ebola virus is a lethal human pathogen that sparked tremendous human interest, with the most recent outbreak in 2014. Ebola disease is caused by one of five subspecies of the Ebola virus. This disease is highly infectious and lethal, as even an infinitesimally small 4 amount can cause illness and ultimately death. Since the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the race has been to produce a vaccine to protect the human population against the virus. Multiple pharmaceutical companies are researching and performing clinical trials to develop a vaccine. Although there no one vaccine has been approved, there are several that have shown positive results in clinical trials. Ultimately, the discovery of an Ebola vaccine would not only have scientific implications, but halachic implications as well. Halacha not only would approve of vaccination against Ebola, but in certain cases would mandate it.
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