Issue: August 2011
August 01, 2011
2 min read

Religious beliefs not a barrier to immunizations in Amish community

Wenger OK. Pediatrics. 2011;128:79-85.

Issue: August 2011
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Amish parents who do not immunize their children are more likely to be concerned about potential adverse events related to vaccines, as opposed to religious beliefs, according to a study by researchers at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio.

Olivia K. Wenger, MD, and colleagues focused on an Amish community in Holmes County, Ohio, which is, according to the researchers, one of the largest Amish communities in the world, with “persistently low immunization rates.” This conservative Christian sect is not prohibited from vaccinating their children, but outbreaks of pertussis and measles have prompted concern among health care officials, according to a recent study in Pediatrics.

In January 2007, the researchers distributed questionnaires to 1,000 Amish parents in Holmes County. Among 359 respondents, most (68%) stated that all of their children had received at least one vaccine, and 14% of those surveyed said their children had received no vaccines. Of these, 86% “stated that the main reason they do not vaccinate their children is concern over adverse effects.” And another group of these parents said they had concerns over the way that vaccines are manufactured.

“Even in America’s closed religious communities, the major barrier to vaccination is concern over adverse effects of vaccinations,” the researchers concluded. “If 85% of Amish parents surveyed accept some immunizations, they are a dynamic group that may be influenced to accept preventive care.”

The researchers said changing parental perceptions about vaccines could be an approach to increasing immunization rates in this community.

Disclosure: The researchers reported no relevant financial disclosures.


Keith Powell
Keith R.

The study by Dr. Wenger and her colleagues offers a clear lesson on the power of the anecdote. In a closed community with limited access to communications from anti-vaccine groups, individuals are nonetheless informed by family members and other individuals in the community that they have witnessed bad outcomes associated with immunizations. The consequent fear of possible complications results in children not being fully immunized.

The truth is that the vast majority of bad outcomes that have been temporally associated with the administration of a vaccine were not caused by the vaccine. A second truth is that the complications associated with vaccine-preventable diseases far exceed potential complications from the respective vaccines.

We are fortunate to live in a society that values the health and well being of children and provides the means to assure that every child can be fully immunized with recommended vaccines. To realize the shared goal of child welfare, we need to counter anecdotes with accurate information about vaccine safety and the benefits of vaccinating children. Only vaccines that meet the highest standards of safety are recommended for use in our children. -

Keith R. Powell, MD
Vice President and Dr. Noah Miller Chair in Pediatric Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital Akron, Ohio

Disclosure: Dr. Powell reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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