The “Freewinds” ship, a cruise ship that is owned by the Church of Scientology, has reportedly been quarantined in the Caribbean island of Santa Lucia due to a confirmed measles case.
According to Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James, St. Lucia’s chief medical official, the country received information there was a confirmed measles case on Tuesday. After consulting with multiple health organizations both in and outside of Saint Lucia, “because of the risk of potential infection — not just from the confirmed measles case, but from other persons who may be on the boat — we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark,” she said in a bilingual video message before advising Saint Lucia residents to present proof of vaccination before traveling outside the country.
Although Fredericks-James did not mention in her video message which ship was being quarantined, a Saint Lucia Coast Guard member later confirmed to MSNBC that the confirmed measles case was a female crew member on Freewinds, a ship owned and operated out of the Caribbean by the Church of Scientology. According to its official website, Freewinds is a 440-foot vessel that conducts spiritual counseling to high-ranking Scientologists aboard. Most famously, it was the site of the 42nd birthday party of Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most famous follower. “To a Scientologist, boarding the Freewinds for New OT VIII is the pinnacle of a deeply spiritual journey,” the website says. “Years of training and auditing have brought him to this ultimate point. It is the most significant spiritual accomplishment of his lifetime and brings with it the full realization of his immortality.”
The Church of Scientology has not yet issued public statement on the quarantine, and representative did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
Most commonly known as a childhood disease, measles is a highly contagious infectious disease marked by fever, cough, a runny nose and a sore throat, followed by a telltale red rash all over the body. Before the advent of the first measles vaccine in the U.S. in 1963, nearly 3 to 4 million people contracted measles every year, with 400 to 500 people developing severe complications and dying from the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Although the development of the measles vaccine led to the CDC declaring measles largely eliminated from the U.S. population in 2000, declining vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of the disease in various pockets of the United States, most recently Rockland County, New York, which has a large Orthodox Jewish population, many of whom are opposed to vaccination. Many health officials attribute recent measles outbreaks to the rise of so-called “anti-vaxxers,” or people who promote the view that vaccination is harmful, despite extensive research indicating that it is not. Many social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest have subsequently taken steps to deplatform or outright ban anti-vaccination content.
Although the Church of Scientology hasn’t taken an official stance on vaccination, Scientologists are not discouraged from seeking medical treatment from trained professionals, according to the official website. That said, some high-profile Scientology adherents, such as Kirstie Alley and Jenna Elfman, have publicly opposed mandatory vaccination.