Amish parents mirror wider concerns over vaccines

NEW YORK Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:34pm EDT

Related Topics

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Among the minority of Amish parents who do not immunize their children, the most common reasons for skipping the shots were more related to concerns over the potential side effects of vaccines, than to religious beliefs, a new study finds.

"The reasons that Amish parents resist immunizations mirror reasons that non-Amish parents resist immunizations," Dr. Olivia K. Wenger of Akron Children's Hospital and her colleagues wrote in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous research had suggested that lack of access could be a factor keeping vaccination rates low in Amish communities.

The Amish are conservative Christians known for living in closed communities and without much modern technology. Their tenets don't prohibit vaccination, but outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases in underimmunized Amish communities have raised concern.

The researchers mailed surveys to hundreds of families in Holmes County, Ohio, where a large number of Amish live.

Ohio records showed about 45 percent of the Holmes county population was fully immunized, compared with a statewide rate of 80 percent.

Of 359 households that responded to the survey, 85 percent said that at least some of their children had received at least one vaccine.

Forty-nine families refused all vaccines for their children, mostly because they worried the vaccines could cause harm and were not worth the risk.

Other common reasons included concerns that the shots have dangerous chemicals in them and that the diseases the vaccines protect against are not a problem in the community.

Just one out of the 49 totally unvaccinated families cited difficulty in getting to the doctor's office, three said the shots are too expensive, and three of the parents agreed that "giving shots means I'm not putting faith in God to take care of my children."

None of the families said that their ministers disagreed with giving shots.

Saad Omer, an assistant professor at Emory University who was not involved in the study, said he was not surprised by the results.

Most parents' decisions about immunizations are based upon perceptions of how common and dangerous a disease is, Omer said, and perceptions of how safe and effective a vaccine is.

"It's a multifaceted issue," he added. "It's not an issue of access."

If parents observe that a particular disease is rare, for example, they might choose to exempt their children from immunizations. But that decision, Omer told Reuters Health, could put their child at a greater health risk.

"There is a reason why the rates of vaccine-preventable diseases are low," he said, "and that's because of the vaccines."

The other factor that plays into vaccine refusal is the relative convenience of getting a shot, compared to the convenience of getting an exemption for that vaccine.

Ohio, like 19 other states, allows children to be exempt from immunizations based on personal as well as religious beliefs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend immunizations against 14 diseases, which include about two dozen doses of vaccines during the first six years of life.

At least 90 percent of children in the United States have received polio, chicken pox, measles, and hepatitis B vaccines. Other diseases have lower rates of immunization.

Parental resistance to immunizations has been blamed for recent outbreaks of childhood diseases.

One study found that one in 20 children who were not immunized for whooping cough caught the illness, compared to one in 500 who had been vaccinated.

"Understanding separatist groups such as the Amish is crucial for prevention of disease epidemics, because underimmunized populations are proven reservoirs of serious infections," wrote Wenger and her colleagues.

SOURCE: bit.ly/lIMjD4 Pediatrics, online June 27, 2011.

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
BEANSnGRAVY wrote:
Vaccine rejectionism is dangerous. It harms the children who are not vaccinated, and it harms unrelated children who are too young to be vaccinated. Make no mistake about it, vaccine rejectionism is unethical as well as the result of scientific ignorance. Parents who reject vaccines implicitly rely on other people being vaccinated. They are willing to accept the benefits, without partaking of the risk. They expose their own children to life threatening illness, and they expose other people’s children to life threatening illness. The government should act to restrict vaccine waivers to only those with medical indications for forgoing vaccination. The right to indulge one’s philosophical beliefs ends at the point where it threatens the life and health of other people’s children.

Jun 28, 2011 5:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
kikobrat wrote:
Fully vaccinated people can contract the very disease they are supposedly immunized against. Check out the “whooping cough” vaccine, http://www.dailypaul.com/167931/a-collection-of-mainstream-news-reports-and-studies-exploding-the-whooping-cough-vaccine-myth I think it is awesome that the main stream media is finally asking the right questions when outbreaks occur: Were the people affected by the outbreak fully immunized? It has been assumed over the years they were not, and the CDC is and was not any help including that in their studies. I find it entertaining that people who are for vaccines feel protected and scared at the same time. By using your logic that vaccines prevent and eradicate disease, you should be “immune”, but you aren’t (because a small percentage of the population is spreading it, like the Amish who typically just have contact within their own community). Maybe we should enforce the mass drugging of our drinking water with lithium. That will prevent crazy people from killing others. Only people with severe reactions to lithium should be able to obtain exemptions. (Oh wait, we don’t know if anyone needs an exemption until the harm is already done!)Science is ever changing. As soon as we can forfeit the corporate dollar for the well being of our kids and the population, I believe vaccines will be obsolete. In the meantime, I feel sorry that you are scared to live amongst the ones that cause “disease” (that people don’t actually die of by the way). They die of complications, and are usually unhealthy people.

Jun 29, 2011 10:34am EDT  --  Report as abuse
DixieDiva wrote:
One reason they may not invoke a religious vaccine waiver is that they are unaware that some vaccines are propagated on aborted fetal tissue. Christians are pro-life, so if they were more informed from doctors about what ingredients are in vaccines I think less than 45% would vaccinate at all. But the revelation here is that the herd immunity theory is proven as a myth. Since there is no “epidemic” in this community of more un-vacciated people than vaccinated! Thanks for this article of spin and misinformation since it was reported that the recent Pertussis (whooping cough)outbreak in CA was among fully VACCINATED kids. So no one can blame ineffective vaccines and the spread of the illness on UNvaccinated.

Jun 29, 2011 10:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Pictures