Dammit, Stop Using the Amish as an Excuse Not to Vaccinate Your Kids 


Against all logic, reason and every shred of credible scientific evidence, the “don’t vaccinate your kids” brigade is still at it. (Thanks for the resurgence of whooping cough and polio, guys!) The latest pawn in their apparent bid to kill everyone from easily preventable diseases: the Amish, courtesty of yet another bullshit viral “healthy living” article.

As the Atlantic‘s Olga Khazan points out, the newest anti-vax argument, presented in thinly-sourced stories on “natural health” websites, is that the Amish don’t get sick because they don’t vaccinate. Here it is, from a site called LA Healthy Living, in a story titled “Why the Amish Rarely Get Sick: What We Can Learn From Them:”

Did you know that Amish people rarely have any learning disabilities or autism. There have been only 3 cases of autism among the amish in which the kids got vaccinated (here). Instead of crediting their lack of autism to the absence of vaccines, mainstream society credits it to a superior gene that the Amish possess. In spite of constant pressure from the government, the Amish still refuse to vaccinate.

Leaving aside the execrable grammar, punctuation and curious lack of a capitalization going on there, virtually every line of that paragraph is false. A lot of Amish parents do vaccinate their kids, and in many communities where vaccination rates are lower it’s due to lack of access. Other Amish parents who didn’t believe in vaccination started to reconsider that stance after an enormous measles outbreak in their community in central Ohio. And hyping the Amish as a community that “rarely gets sick” is nonsense, given that they suffer from a number of devastating genetic diseases that are rare in other populations, including maple syrup urine disease, where the body doesn’t properly break down amino acids, and Crigler-Najjar syndrome, a disorder that affects the liver and spleen.

Yet the idea that the Amish are untouched by modern diseases has a curiously stubborn hold on the anti-vax crowd, propelled by people like Dr. Joseph Mercola, who advocates vitamin supplements over vaccinations and claims that vitamin D cures cancer (no). But the myth has been kicking around for even longer, since at least 2000, with a serious upward jolt in 2005. That’s when a reporter named named Dan Olmsted conducted a completely unscientific anecdotal survey of Amish communities and wrote a series of columns for United Press International on what he dubbed “the Amish anomaly.” (The claim that there are only three Amish autistic children in Pennsylvania and two of them were vaccinated comes directly from Olmsted.) He somehow failed to notice that there’s an entire autism clinic in Amish country, the Clinic for Special Children.

So no, the Amish are not The Great Bonneted hope for those people hoping to keep their children from getting rubella using little more than carrots and prayer. Not that that’ll stop the LA Healthy Living article from decimating your Facebook newsfeed, right alongside all those stories about chemtrails and the government using fluoride to turn us all into zombie sheeple.

Mennonite girls outside a vaccination clinic in Shiloh, Ohio, June 2014. A measles outbreak there started after Amish travelers to the Philippines contracted measles and then returned home. Image via AP

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