Please note our correction to this story in the “Update” section further down the page.
The biggest measles outbreak in two decades is underway in Boston, with at least 13 infections counted. Recently, a new wrinkle emerged, when a Christian Scientist was infected. He either works or has contact with someone at the Christian Science Monitor — a reputable news organization staffed largely by members of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
It’s not often that we quote Gawker.com, but they’ve got the story:
…a rare case of measles was found in the Back Bay area, and an employee of the Christian Science Church was found to be exposed or infected. The Boston Public Health Commission is now asking every member of the church for proof of immunization, but, you know, Christian Scientists don’t really “do” doctors or vaccines.
Over at the otherwise lovely Christian Science Monitor, the majority of the staff hasn’t been vaccinated – and if just one staffer becomes infected, the rest of the non-immunized staff would have to be quarantined. This has editors rather concerned, as a quarantine situation would leave the paper to be run by a small handful of non-Scientist staffers and interns.
In order to prevent a journalistic catastrophe, CSM staffers have very grudgingly started to get immunizations, even though they believe that the measles threat is “not true.” Nevertheless, the Public Health threat still stands, and if one staff member gets sick, the quarantine will go into effect.
Apparently, an ineffective vaccine given in the mid 60’s is the culprit. This strain is endemic to India, and the first patient recently traveled there.
We suspect it’s unprecedented that an organization could cease to function because the staff’s religious beliefs led to medical vulnerability. At least, in modern times — though perhaps telecommuting will save them. It’ll be interesting to see whether the famously tolerant Commonwealth makes certain allowances for this religion, and whether CSM members acquiesce for their paper or in spite of their beliefs.
More from the BostonChannel.com and the Boston Globe (we’re still waiting on the report from the Christian Science Monitor…)
A fascinating look inside the Christian Science Church, from a 1995 Atlantic Monthly (subscription req’d)…
Update: (6/20/06) Medgadget staff spoke with Norman Bleichman, a representative of the Church, to correct any mistakes made in our reporting, and to clarify what happened. Here are the details as we were told by the representative of the Church:
We appreciate the clarification. The Christian Science Church seems to be acting responsibly, in this instance, from a medical viewpoint. Perhaps it is a matter of regret that its members were not vaccinated earlier.