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
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
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
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.