The various vaccine manufactroversies that have spread in the wake of the Andrew Wakefield’s bogus claims that the measles component of the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism are too numerous to unpack in one brief blog post. One of the most persistent has been the Amish fallacy: Most Amish don’t vaccinate; there’s almost no record of autism in Amish communities; ergo, vaccines cause autism. (This argument has also been used, time and time and time again, to illustrate the efficacy of a proposed vaccinated-versus-unvaccinated study.)
Not surprisingly, no part of the Amish fallacy — which has been kicking around for over a decade and gained new prominence and attention with this, purely anecdotal 2005 dispatch* — is true. Over the years, Ken Reibel at Autism News Beat has documented the problems with the Amish report, although the myth still persists.
Yesterday, Reuters Health reported on a recent study in Pediatrics titled “Underimmunization in Ohio’s Amish: Parental Fears Are a Greater Obstacle Than Access to Care.” The study found that majority of Amish parents do, in fact, vaccinate their children…and among the minority that don’t, the most common reasons cited were the same anti-vaccine fueled fears that have infected people around the country.
Unlike the theories propagated by anti-vaccine activists, this study was definitely not anecdotal: It was based on surveys sent to hundreds of families in Holmes County, which has a large number of Amish families. As Reuters reports, “Of 359 households that responded to the survey, 85 percent said that at least some of their children had received at least one vaccine. Forty-nine families refused all vaccines for their children, mostly because they worried the vaccines could cause harm and were not worth the risk.”
The study’s conclusions summarize the issue quite succinctly:
The reasons that Amish parents resist immunizations mirror reasons that non-Amish parents resist immunizations. Even in America’s closed religious communities, the major barrier to vaccination is concern over adverse effects of vaccinations. If 85% of Amish parents surveyed accept some immunizations, they are a dynamic group that may be influenced to accept preventative care. Underimmunization in the Amish population must be approached with emphasis on changing parental perceptions of vaccines in addition to ensuring access to vaccines.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the days to come…and what objections will be raised to invalidate this latest piece of evidence.
* Correction: In the first iteration of this post, I attributed the Amish-don’t-vaccinate myth to the 2005 UPI dispatch linked to above; as was pointed out in the comments, it has been kicking around since at least 2000.