Ask an Amishman: Medical Visits and Vaccinations

Pennsylvania Amishman John Stoltzfus has kindly agreed to answer some reader questions about the Amish.

Of course “the Amish” includes different groups with different practices.

With that in mind, John writes that “my views will not be the only view from our people, because of the vast geographic area of our communities, and because each community or settlement has its own Ordnung. I will try to answer the questions with a general approach.”

The first question was asked by reader Shannon:

Do Amish get routine medical visits and vaccines like everyone else?

John responds:

Routine medical visits vary from family to family. The term “medical visits” could also include visits to a chiropractor or another natural health practitioner.

Most of the child births in the plain communities are taken care of by mid-wives, and doctors and midwives just do check ups till the child is maybe a year old, most possibly less.

General consensus is: someone with a chronic disease will have regular check ups, however if there is nothing wrong, we don’t go to the doctor to have him search for an ailment. There is a very popular book in our communities–Be Your Own Doctor by Rachel Weaver–and if there is something wrong that is the first place to check before calling the ambulance. Another popular book that will give you insight about medical experiences in the plain community is House Calls and Hitching Posts.

I know that in the 1970s and 80s most of the plain communities in this area received vaccines; however that has changed over the last decade or so. There is a much higher percentage of the Amish population now that doesn’t allow their children vaccine shots, than 30 years ago.

My feeling on the parents’ decision to not have their children get the shots, is that it isn’t a Biblical reason, it is a medical reason. Apparently there are some natural practitioners that have spoken out about the side effects of the child getting the vaccine. I had all my shots, however my wife didn’t and in 1988 she had the measles while she was pregnant and our daughter did have ear-related issues as a child that we feel came from my wife having measles. After our experience, we made sure that all of our children have had the shots, and we are vocal advocates about the side effects of not getting the shots.

I personally feel it is a big mistake not having your children’s shots up to date.  As fewer parents allow the child to be vaccinated, the non-vaccinated population is growing, which could create a huge disease breakout later. There is enough historical evidence that the vaccines have almost eliminated the worst diseases.

Our Church doesn’t have rules or stipulations on what to do or not to do when it comes to a medical decision, so it is all about individual decisions.


John Stoltzfus is a father of five and member of a Pennsylvania Old Order Amish community. John works in product design for a local farm supply company. In his spare time he creates computer-generated art, which you can view here.

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    1. New York State of Mind

      I am allergic to the flu shots and can’t take them, but I would highly recommend them. Really enjoyed Mr. Stoltzfus pictures. They are beautiful.


      1. Alice Mary

        new flu shots for those allergic

        NY State of Mind–

        Just this morning, on CBS radio, I heard a brief news bite about new flu vaccines being developed specifically for those who have been allergic to current vaccines (I believe this is an egg allergy?). Anyway, I thought you might want to watch for more news about these new vaccines. 🙂

        I never had chicken pox as a child, and there wasn’t a vaccine available until AFTER I caught chicken pox in my mid-30’s, when both of my kids (then 5 & 11) came down with it. I (as an adult) had it FAR worse than they did, with much more scarring, pox inside my mouth, really, really bad. It caused me to call my husband home from an out of state business trip because I truly couldn’t function without help. I would have gladly taken the vaccine (had there been one then) for myself AND my kids.

        I’ve gotten flu shots for many years now, and have been quite healthy (no flu, only an occasional minor cold) as a result (I’m also diabetic, have HBP…). My supervisor’s 4-year-old grandson, a Leukemia patient on chemo, has to be sure he doesn’t catch anything—his nurse mother (medical assistant father) and his 3 older siblings ALL get flu and other vaccines. If they didn’t, and they came down with flu (etc.) and passed it to him, it could TRULY be deadly. For his sake (as well as others who can’t fight off “normal” illnesses), I would hope that MORE people would get flu shots (as long as they’re not TRULY allergic to them). Not doing so seems somewhat selfish (or cowardly?). The community benefits more than it suffers, in my opinion (“historical evidence”).

        Alice Mary

        Alice Mary

        1. Wow, sounds rough Alice Mary. It’d almost be worth exposing kids to chicken pox intentionally just to avoid the worse experience, as I understand is typical, later. Perhaps some parents do this, more or less.

        2. OldKat

          I can second this.

          When my son was about 2&1/2 y.o. he had a severe case of chicken pox. Our daughter, who was about 6 at the time got a mild case from him. I was about 35 or 36 at the time and got a moderate case. I was miserable. I can’t even imagine getting a severe case like Mary Alice is describing. I too would have gladly taken a vaccination for it, problem being that even if one was available I didn’t know that I had NOT already had a case.

          I would caution people to not let the doctor’s office administer ALL of the childhood vaccinations to their child at one time. If your child has a reaction it is often not possible to tell which one the reaction is to. We would let them give our children a couple of vaccinations and then come back in a week or so and get some more. It is more expensive this way and the doctor’s office did not like it, in fact I had to use the L word … lawsuit, if they didn’t do it the way we wanted it done. We got it done our way. I won’t be buffaloed and you shouldn’t be either when it comes to your children’s health and safety.

          1. Linda

            That’s interesting, OldKat. I understand that one school of thought is that in the bygone years of the 1980s or so, the vaccinations were spread out over a longer period of time. Now the vaccination schedule is scrunched together, so that an infant may be receiving more vaccinations closer together. They may receive more vaccines in one day. So many vaccinations, so close together. It’s hard for some bodies to handle so many vaccines at one time.

            John, I have also thought about the non-vaccinators depending on a percentage of the vaccinated population.

      2. Marilyn

        Thanks for your kind comment and for stopping by 🙂

    2. SharonR

      Medical Visits and Vacc.

      Thanks for Mr. Stoltzfus’ insights regarding Medical situations, and vaccinations. I think it is very commendable that his order, uses a “common sense” approach, rather than a “panic” approach, if one merely “sneezes” — yes, there are some people who are always at the Dr’s. office. With that said, however, there is some serious illnesses that do start with minor ailments, and we must go to Dr’s and possibly ‘specialists’ from time to time, to get necessary treatment. We are all human and no matter where you live, or how we live, we are susceptible to many diseases and germs, in the world. If we all could take some of our “Amish” neighbor’s advice on how to live, what to eat, etc. I think we all would be healthier. 🙂

      1. Apparently the citizens of the Czech Republic were the most frequent visitors to the doctor’s office of any European country as of a few years ago (standard post-Communist state health care system I believe). I remember hearing how the State instituted a nominal charge, probably equal to a few dollars at most, for each visit, which helped knock the numbers down. I don’t know if the Czechs are more sickly, or just feel that way 🙂 I am the opposite and could probably do with slightly more frequent doctor visits.

      2. SharonR

        You’re welcome

        As for your comment “the Amish eating healthy”, we may eat more from our gardens, however there are still a lot of obese people in our community.

        A few years ago we operated a Market Stand and we installed a Soft Ice Cream machine. Before we could sell Ice Cream we needed to get a Frozen Desert License from the State. I called the PA Dept of Agriculture and I asked the lady “Why are food borne illnesses so prevalent today, verses 20 years ago”, her answer was, “Anti Bacterial Soap is the biggest reason, today as soon as a small child’s hands get dirty, they get washed. Years ago children were in the barnyards, gardens, and other outside areas, eating dirt or what ever else they got their hands on. It was then that the child’s immune system was building and the bacteria in the dirt or what ever they stuck in their mouth was a big part of developing the immune system”

        Having thought of that more, I came to the conclusion, that is why food poisoning is pretty much unheard of in the farming communities.

    3. Tom in KY

      It pains me to hear about some Amish refusing vaccines to their children. As Mr.Stoltzfus states there is plenty historical evidence that shows vaccines work.

      1. Tom

        I’ve already have stated my feelings on vaccines, however there are instances where there have been unfortunate circumstances where the vaccines caused serious side effects or death.

        Having said that, I still feel that the percentages of the pro’s – con’s, are still in the favor of vaccines. I feel the bigger issue will be when there are enough of people “Not” vaccinated, a disease breakout could be disastrous.

        There are plenty of stories on either side, so do what you think is best for your family and as long as your decision doesn’t effect me. 🙂

    4. Naomi Wilson

      We prefer natural options

      We have and use Be Your Own Doctor, by Rachel Weaver. As a matter of fact, we just used it to help my son get through the severe strain of flu that is going around. It contains lots of very good advice. Before my son was born, we spent months carefully researching and weighing the vaccination issue, and our decision was and remains not to vaccinate. Our pediatrician works with many vaccine-damaged patients, and recommends against vaccinating in most cases.

    5. Carolyn B

      Re: vaccinations, I will say that both of my parents suffered from shingles very badly. I am looking forward to the day I turn 60 (in a decade or so) and will qualify for the shot. As a disabled person, I feel that a shingles attack would land me in a hospital or nursing home to recuperate.

      1. Does the shot not work before age 60 Carolyn?

        1. Carolyn B

          Thanks for asking, Erik. What I’ve been told is that the CDC or FDA recommendation is age 60; now that you’ve asked me, I’ve done some research that it may be as young as 50 yrs old who can get the vaccine. I do plan to see my primary in the next six months and ask him as to how soon I really could get the shot.

      2. Carolyn B

        I have seen my Father suffer with Shingles and I echo your post….

    6. sarah

      There are some families in our local community that choose to vaccinate. Most don’t i believe that some vaccinations are good while others are not neccessary. For example… chicke pox is a mild childhood ailment… perhaps not a needed vaccination. Anyway, i have offered a ride to any of the amish in the community that want to be vaccinated at our local health department. I had a dear friend set to do it. The appointment was made and then she went to church. Some of the women convinced her that there was nothing wrong with the children and she should not get them vaccinated. How frustrating… her sister in law did have her 2 youngest vaccinated though because it was agreed amongst the women that since one of the youngest had downs syndrome… whooping cough would be detrimental to his health. They would not agree to any other vaccinations though. I suppose it is a step in the rigt direction…

    7. Lattice

      Thanks, John, for your willingness to answer questions.

      The Amish/Mennonites that I know seem to spend relatively large sums of money on “natural” cures. I sometimes feel that they are, perhaps, a little too gullible, and also far too inclined to take remedies that are “natural” thinking that they are completely safe and harmless. The fact is that almost every “natural” remedy you take has been processed and refined, just like prescription drugs. It’s wise to consider that 121 known prescription drugs that are sold by major pharmaceuticals come directly from the rain forest. They are “natural.” And two of the most addictive illegal drugs we know of (heroin and cocaine) are “natural.”

      What I’m trying to say is that these “natural” remedies that the plain people readily ingest are, in fact, drugs, and can create problems for people. If you ever have to see a cardiologist for a heart problem, the first thing he/she will do is throw away your “natural” supplements, etc.

      1. Lattice

        You’re welcome

        And Yes, the Amish are very gullible when it comes to natural health products or procedures. Over the years there have been a lot of natural Quack Doctors that have basically stolen a lot of money from the Plain communities….

        The story is; How do you get Amish on the Moon? First you need to send up a Natural Quack practitioner.


        1. Lattice

          Ha! Yes, I’ve heard that one… except I think the attraction was a Chiropractor, in the version I was told. Being able to chuckle at ourselves is a good thing, I suppose.

      2. Eric

        Natural Remedies

        I disagree that truly natural remedies are to be suspect. If one can’t actually see the leaf, powder or what have you, it is probably processed to some degree.

        Most pharmaceuticals are synthesized from who knows what. They may have been discovered in the Amazon or some other exotic place, but rarely are tons of leaves or roots shipped from such locales.

        Tried and proven natural remedies with hundreds of years of positive results used to be known by our forebears and the Indians. These are not a panacea, and work best with a healthy lifestyle.

        Cocaine and heroin are hardly natural. They both take considerable processing, and the former uses some rather noxious poisons in the process.

        If it is still available, I’d recommend “God Given Herbs for the Healing of Mankind” by Dr.G. Richard Culp. I ran across him in Harrisburg, Oregon in the mid-seventies. He moved to Goshen, Indiana and I rather doubt he is still alive. A remarkable man, and the author of at least one book debunking Calvinism.

        1. Lattice

          I still have to respectfully disagree…

          When I lived in the Andes of South America, miners would take along coca leaves to chew in order to ward off hunger (by numbing their mouths and stomach) and give them energy. Cocaine, its refined/potent form, produces the same effects, but accentuated.

          You are right in that many pharmaceuticals have synthetic ingredients, but oftentimes the ACTIVE ingredient is NATURAL. Yes, many of these natural remedies have been safely used for eons, and many pharmaceuticals have excellent track records as well. I just think people should exercise caution when ingesting things, because they can harm themselves assuming something is safe, simply because it’s natural.

          Anyone who buys or sells natural remedies would likely disagree with me – that’s expected, but what I’m saying is only common sense.

          1. Eric

            What is natural

            Cocoa leaves are indeed a completely natural stimulant and appetite suppressant. Cocaine is not.

            Unproven “natural” remedies can very well be as dangerous as the pharmaceuticals nowadays that require another drug to combat side effects and another ad infinitum.

            Those who sell natural remedies have a vested interest in their promotion, just as Big Pharma does for their products. If one only ingests products that have proven themselves for many decades, there should be little reason for concern. However, most modern drug formulations are not very far removed from experimental testing before they’re marketed.

            I would submit to you that using natural products as a preventative measure is really no different than a well balanced, and “natural diet. As a curative measure, they generally fall short compared to the knockout punch delivered by synthesized drugs.

            1. Lattice

              I agree with absolutely everything you wrote, especially:

              “However, most modern drug formulations are not very far removed from experimental testing before they’re marketed.”

              and this… I’m a big proponent of this:

              “I would submit to you that using natural products as a preventative measure is really no different than a well balanced, and “natural diet.”

    8. New York State of Mind

      Hello Alice Ma;y,
      Thnk you for your information. I will try and watch it. My allergy has nothing to do with eggs. I can eat eggs. If I get the shot, I swell up, get spots all over and if they don’t get me to the hospital soon enough-I can’t breath. The doctor gave it to me a year or so ago to see if maybe I had changed-I gave her my permission. She saw the reaction and told me never to have that again. I also can not have a tetanus shot-I get the same reaction. There is something in them that causes me to have the reaction. I also have reactions to medicine, too. I have to always ask the doctor what they are giving me, what it contains, and what to do if I have a reaction. My Mom came from the hills of Kentucky and use to have home remedies for me-sometimes. I never paid attention to them. Now that Mom is gone, I wish I had paid attention and had her write them down for me. She believed in doctors, but when I was raised they weren’t as many or as close to our home as are today. Sometimes my Mom did better than the doctors did. She never lost a patient.

    9. Joanne


      When my husband and I got our shingles vaccine a year ago, the person administering it said that soon folks over 50 who need it will be able to get it but must have a permit from their doctor. We got our shot at a near Chicago drugstore as our local doctors and clinics did NOT have the vaccine for many months. Hubby had shingles when he was about 30, our granddaughter had them two years ago at the age of 32. It was not pleasant.

    10. Shingles

      My mil, youngest daughter and I all had shingle within a relatively short period of time. I don’t remember exactly when they had it, but I know my daughter was about 24-25 years old at the time & my mil is about 53 years older than she is – so mid to late 70’s. Both had it on their torso & were miserable. I had shingles on my forehead the spring of 2005 while I was job searching! I spent about a month dealing with it – only about 6 spots of it on the left side of my forehead, all spots looked more like pimples or boils than the blisters I had always seen pictures of. So I was actually treated originally for an infection with an antibiotic, then 2 weeks later switched by my Dr. to a shingles med that he told me works best if started within 48 hours of the break-out. So I was amazed that mine healed as quickly as they did. He said the itching & the fact that they were following a nerve between my brow & my hairline told him that was what it was. Amazing to me, the LPN that I saw when the 1st Dr. put me on the antibiotics actually told me that she thought I had shingles before he even came in the room. I am nearly 54 now & a bump coming up on my face always frightens me, so I do intend to get the vaccine for shingles myself.

    11. Ed

      It pains me to see the Amish being taken advantage of by quacks/natropaths and alleged “natural” remedies and buying into scaremongering about vaccines.

      I guess my attitude about healthcare and the Amish way are pretty far apart. And although I could theoretically accept, say, living without electricity or a car, I could never accept putting my children at risk of getting an easily preventable disease or pretending to “be my own doctor” when there’s a real doctor just down the road.

      That said, sounds like Mr. Stoltzfus handles medical issues in a reasonable way, and I thank him for contributing his thoughts to this blog.