Why are Amish opting out of the COVID-19 vaccine? This Cedar Rapids Gazette article about Iowa Amish and the COVID vaccine is one of the better that I’ve seen.

We get a deeper look at the Kalona Amish community, in some ways one of the more progressive settlements. Author Brooklyn Draisey speaks with several Amish leaders, including several current bishops, as well as a former bishop, to figure out what’s going on.

I’ve pulled four specific reasons Amish are skipping the COVID vaccine from the article:

1. “Lifestyle” protection – Amish believe that their active lifestyles and homegrown food, along with working around livestock, keeps them healthy and their immune systems robust.

2. A belief the disease is not so bad – some Amish were hospitalized, but we learn that “this year hasn’t seen much more illness than others…in terms of people not feeling well enough to be out and about. Many people lost their sense of smell and taste, and some felt like they had the flu, but few felt worse than that.”

Like in other Amish communities, it is thought that “many people in the community did contract the coronavirus at some point.” Few have been tested, unless hospitalized. But a local funeral director confirms that there has been a “lack” of deaths due to COVID there.

3. A belief in natural immunity – as it’s believed that most have had COVID, there is a belief that natural immunity protects them. So what is the point of getting a vaccine, the thinking goes. This is also similar to other Amish communities.

4. Concern over long-term side effects – Amish are described as “wary of potential long-term side effects” of the vaccine, preferring to “get sick and recover”. The vaccine is seen as something like the flu shot and other inoculations, which most Kalona Amish do not receive.

Belief against the vaccine is strong enough that bishop Elson Miller has even discouraged his church from getting immunized:

While getting the COVID-19 vaccine is ultimately a personal decision, Miller said he has discouraged people in his district from receiving COVID-19 vaccines. The majority opinion has been that people will take the disease over the vaccine, he said, because it hasn’t seemed that bad.

“In our opinion, we rely on our healthy immune systems for our vaccine,” Miller said.

Another bishop named Tobias Yoder sounds of similar mind: “If you asked me if COVID-19 was a threat, I’d say no.” Former bishop Vernon Yoder shares that as far as he knows, no one in the community of nearly 2,000 Amish plans to get a vaccination.

Burdens and blessings

Like in other Amish places, there was a relatively brief pause in holding church services and other events beginning last March. For a time they held church outside in their buggies. Things were back to normal by June, with large gatherings like weddings and funerals happening as usual. The period of religious service shutdown was described as “difficult” for the community.

Parked buggies in the Kalona, Iowa Amish community

Photo: Don Burke

Tobias Yoder felt that the church restrictions were an infringement on their religious freedoms, describing it as a “political” issue. Vernon Yoder said it made him consider the rights his people had, and how they could lose them: “It made us think about the things we take for granted, and the blessings we have.”

At the same time, the bishops emphasize that Amish have been following the rules while in town, such as wearing masks at the bank. Tobias Yoder stresses the need to treat each other with respect, and echoes the words of an Indiana bishop reported back in March 2020: “Don’t force your sickness on others, but don’t live in fear.”

Lancaster County efforts going nowhere?

Meanwhile, efforts to convince Amish residents to vaccinate continue in Lancaster County, with little apparent effect.

This WGAL report informs us that clinics have been set up in heavily-Amish areas – Paradise and a site in southern Lancaster County – and ads have been placed in the Busy Beaver, a weekly publication popular with Amish. But, it doesn’t sound like many are showing up. Amish have been invited to the vaccine party – repeatedly – and the hosts keep getting stood up. I’d expect that to continue.

In fact at this point I am skeptical that any change of tactics would lead to large numbers of Amish getting vaccinated. COVID has been here well over a year now and beliefs on it have become too ingrained. But I guess they can continue to try.

I am a bit surprised (but – just a bit) at the amount of attention the Amish have gotten on this topic. The Amish make up roughly .001 of the US population, but they sure are getting a lot of coverage as far as COVID and the vaccine go. Why might that be?

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