Stories & Voices
Spreading the Word About Vaccine Safety to Orthodox Jewish Communities
April 13th, 2021
UJA Federation of New York >> <p><span style="color: #201f1e; font-family: Calibri, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 15px; background-color: #ffffff;">Dr Nava Bak, JOWMA member and emergency medicine physician, receives the Covid-19 vaccine.</span></p>

Dr Nava Bak, JOWMA member and emergency medicine physician, receives the Covid-19 vaccine.

Vaccines are vital to helping lift New Yorkers out of the pandemic. Yet some of the hardest-hit communities have serious concerns about getting a shot. UJA-Federation has awarded $588,000 in grants for vaccine access and education to over 90 community-based organizations in New York. For one grassroots nonprofit, Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association (JOWMA), the grant was used to break down vaccine myths. NOTE: This story was updated on June 9, 2021.

Questions Women Are Asking

As vaccines began to roll out in New York, many women wondered about their health and safety, especially around fertility and pregnancy. “Should I put off trying to get pregnant, if I just got my vaccine?” “I’m five months pregnant, will the vaccine adversely affect me or my baby?” “What are the long-term effects on my fertility?”

While these questions are common to women of all backgrounds, they take on an intense urgency in Jewish Orthodox communities where there’s great emphasis on having a family and many women have four or more children. That’s why JOWMA’s members, who are female physicians, trainees, and medical students, many who are also moms and wives, can play a critical role. Because these questions are nestled in the heart of their lives, too.

“When we hear women raise these issues, we say ‘Of course, you’re worried. So are we — and we got the vaccine because we know the concerns are unfounded, and there’s greater risk in getting sick with Covid,” says Dr. Mimi (Miriam) Knoll, JOWMA president. “We’re also able to share with women that many trustworthy sources, such as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, recommend pregnant women get vaccinated.”

Addressing Misinformation

Since it’s easy for misinformation to come across as credible, JOWMA ran two online town halls with panels of trusted experts who are part of both the Jewish Orthodox and the medical communities. The first town hall focused on vaccine safety; the second, on women’s health. In a follow-up survey to this latest town hall, 21% of respondents said the event changed their opinion about the vawccine and they now planned to get vaccinated.

Two more town halls — one for health professionals and one for premarital counselors, doulas, and mikvah attendants — were held later in April.

“The grant from UJA made it possible for us to extend honoraria and to book speakers at the town halls,” says Dr. Sarah Dienstag Becker, who chairs JOWMA's Covid-19 Task Force. “The grant also helps fund advertorials in Jewish newspapers and magazines to further spread the word about vaccine access and safety.”  

Print publications are popular in Orthodox Jewish communities, which don’t use technology on the weekends for religious reasons.

JOWMA also receives many emails from women asking for more information. While they can’t respond to all requests, they try to answer as many as they can. The effort is paying off.

“One woman contacted us multiple times with different questions about the vaccine, fertility, and long-term effects. I replied with information we’ve verified and addressed her concerns,” Dr. Becker says. A few weeks later, she sent us a picture with her vaccine card.”