Amish undergo immunization at a lower rate than the general public
Vaccinations have recently been a contentious topic in the general public, due to controversial associations made between immunization and autism. Vaccinations have not been as widely accepted by Amish, for a number of reasons, including uncertainty over safety.
Amish vaccinate at a lower rate due to:
- Lack of understanding of benefits-some Amish may simply see no benefit in this preventative measure
- Distrust over safety-some may view immunization as putting themselves at risk through exposure to a disease or fear that a vaccination may cause an illness
- Religious grounds-some Amish may see immunization as putting faith in man over God
Lack of understanding of benefits
Amish may fail to see the purpose of vaccination. Hurst and McConnell note that Amish “underutilize immunization”, and may reason that “many of their parents and grandparents did not get immunizations and suffered few, if any, health problems as a consequence” (An Amish Paradox, Hurst and McConnell, p228). Gertrude Enders Huntington states that “In health matters, the Amish are pragmatists. When approached with facts by individuals whom they trust and when immunization is easy to obtain, most Amish are willing to be immunized” (“Health Issues”, Huntington, The Amish and the State p185).
Huntington notes that knowledge of Amish culture on the part of medical professionals help increase Amish immunization rates. When the somewhat abstract benefits of immunization are explained in the right manner by the right individuals, Amish are more likely to comply.
Hurst and McConnell state that immunization can be especially low among conservative groups, with only 6% of Swartentruber Amish participating, compared to 63% of the overall Amish population and 85% of the non-Amish population, according to a 1984 study (Paradox, Hurst/McConnell).
Some Amish may react positively when they consider that their lack of immunization can negatively affect others, by serving to help spread disease. Such was the case when a polio outbreak occurred in an Amish community in 1979. After initially resisting immunization, Amish chose to be vaccinated after one church member argued for the safety of the non-Amish community (Amish Society, Hostetler p 324).
Distrust over safety
Amish may harbor fears over the safety of immunizations. Huntington describes numerous concerns of Amish over vaccinations, including fears over brain damage, crib death, the introduction of poisons into one’s body, or fear of catching the disease one is seeking to prevent. Huntington also notes the presence of anti-immunization articles and books in Amish communities. Like some in the general public, certain Amish may connect vaccines with autism, another factor discouraging participation rates.
Huntington notes that again, trust in the care provider, and clearly explained information can help increase compliance rates. Convenience and cost are also factors (“Health Issues”, Huntington, p 186-7).
Finally, some Amish may object to vaccinations on religious grounds, though Huntington states that this is a less likely objection than concerns over safety. She notes that Amish who acquire religious exemptions for vaccinations may cite Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed to this world”, as one justification for abstaining. Amish may argue that putting faith in immunizations is like placing faith in man above God, and that vaccination is akin to participating in insurance programs, which Amish typically oppose (“Health Issues”, Huntington, p 186).
For more information, see:
“Health Issues”, Gertrude Enders Huntington, The Amish and the State
An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community, Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell
Amish Society, John A. Hostetler, esp. Ch. 15 “Health and Healing”
Amish Online Encyclopedia: Do Amish visit doctors?
Looking for more good reading on the Amish? Check out our list of best Amish books.