Why Some Orthodox Jewish Women Won’t Get Vaccinated

New York City will spend as much as $60 million, according to one estimate by health officials, on a vaccine outreach program to combat hesitancy and access issues. But in many Orthodox neighborhoods messages from respected rabbis resonate more.

In Israel, where coronavirus restrictions have ceased now that the majority of the population has been vaccinated, state officials confronted similar difficulties with the ultra-Orthodox community. However, representatives from within the community waged an effective counter-messaging campaign.

But those messages have not been as successful in New York.

In the ZIP code for Borough Park in Brooklyn, which has a large Orthodox community, 28.5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, compared with a 45.7 percent rate for all city residents. In the ZIP code for South Williamsburg, where several leading Hasidic sects are centered, 35 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. In East Crown Heights, where the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect is headquartered, that number is 30.5 percent.

Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Health, said the agency has been running ads in local Orthodox media, been working with community-based organizations to host additional pop-up vaccination sites and has partnered with trusted organizations like Hatzalah, an Orthodox volunteer-run ambulance corps, to educate community members.

Other organizations in the region have made similar efforts.

John Lyon, a spokesman for the Rockland County health department, said fertility has been the major issue of concern among ultra-Orthodox residents when it comes to receiving the coronavirus vaccine. Rockland County, home to 90,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, was hit particularly hard by the virus last year.

Mr. Lyon said the department is “working through the delicate and personal process” of answering fertility-related questions by partnering with local health providers and sending envoys to community rabbis, who have the best chance of affecting community outcomes.

In April, the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association hosted three livestream webinars about the coronavirus vaccine aimed at Orthodox women, doulas, premarital counselors and ritual bath house or mikvah attendants, engaging a total of nearly 5,000 participants.

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