About That Amish Vaccine Exemption Lawsuit in New York

An Amish family has filed a lawsuit against a new vaccine law in New York that eliminated religious vaccine exemptions.

An Amish family has filed a lawsuit against a new vaccine law in New York that eliminated religious vaccine exemptions.

Folks who know that Amish do indeed vaccinate their kids are likely surprised by the lawsuit…

About That Amish Vaccine Exemption Lawsuit in New York

Wait, what?

The Amish vaccinate their kids?

While many Amish don’t vaccinate according to the recommended CDC schedule and get all vaccines, many do get at least some of them.

For example, when a large measles outbreak went through Amish communities in Ohio, many got in line to get vaccinated and stop the outbreak, which ended up getting at least 383 people sick.

That wasn’t the only outbreak among the Amish though.

Remember the last cases of wild polio in the United States?

“The 1979 outbreak occurred in unvaccinated Amish persons living in Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Overall, 15 cases of illness caused by wild poliovirus type 1 occurred among U.S. citizens: all 10 paralytic cases occurred among unvaccinated Amish persons; three cases of transient paralysis occurred among unvaccinated Amish persons; and two nonparalytic cases occurred among unvaccinated members of the Mennonite church who were in frequent contact with Amish persons. Epidemiologic and virologic evidence indicated this outbreak resulted from importation of poliovirus from the Netherlands through Canada (Ontario), where outbreaks had occurred during 1978 in members of religious groups with objections to vaccination.”

Poliomyelitis — United States, Canada

It was in 1979.

It was among the Amish.

And many Amish got vaccinated to help eliminate the endemic spread of polio in the United States.

“Immunization campaigns for the Amish are continuing; at least half of the nation’s Amish have now received 1 or more doses of oral poliovirus vaccine.”

Poliomyelitis — United States, Canada

So the Amish are clearly not against vaccines.

In 2004, there was an outbreak of pertussis (345 cases) in an Amish community in Kent County, Delaware.

“Of the 96 households interviewed in which a pertussis case was discovered, a total of 43 (45%) reported not vaccinating any children in their household, 40 (42%) households reported vaccinating at least some children, and 13 (14%) did not provide this information. Of the 43 households not vaccinating children, 19 cited “fear of side effects” as the reason, 13 reported that they “didn’t think about it,” and 11 did not provide specific reasons for nonvaccination. Of the 40 respondents who reported that their children had received vaccinations, 29 (64%) reported vaccination at vaccine clinics set up at Amish homes by DPH nurses.”

Pertussis Outbreak in an Amish Community — Kent County, Delaware, September 2004–February 2005

Although many of the kids weren’t vaccinated, religion didn’t seem to be what drove that decision.

“Religious factors and access to care were not among reasons most reported. “

Kettunen et al on Evaluation of low immunization coverage among the Amish population in rural Ohio.

It is usually fear, rather than religion that keeps the Amish from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

“The findings from the data analysis demonstrated that fear, especially concern over too many recommended immunizations and immunizations overwhelming the child’s system, was the most frequent reported reasons for not having children immunized according to recommendations.”

Kettunen et al on Evaluation of low immunization coverage among the Amish population in rural Ohio.

Unfortunately, this has meant that their children get a high rate of vaccine preventable diseases and that they end up getting hospitalized at higher rates than other children.

“The outcome of pregnancy was determined for the 94 Amish mothers who reported illness or had serologic evidence of maternal rubella (Table 1). CRS occurred in 10 infants, all of whom were born to mothers who had histories of rubella-like illness in the first trimester; seven had possible manifestations of CRS; nine were miscarried/stillborn; and 68 infants appeared normal at birth. During the study period, medical personnel identified one additional infant with CRS from Lancaster County whose mother was a conservative Mennonite. “

Congenital Rubella Syndrome Among the Amish — Pennsylvania, 1991-1992

So not only do the Amish get sick, they get sick for the same reason as typical anti-vaxxers – misinformation and fear of vaccines.

Is that what’s driving this lawsuit in New York?

I don’t know, but if it was just about religion, why does it include typical anti-vaccine talking points about:

  • fetal DNA contaminating our vaccines
  • that unvaccinated children were not responsible for the 2018-19 NYS measles outbreak, going so far as to cite an affidavit from Lawrence Palevsky, who said that “a measles infection in first world countries such as the United States, in 2019, is not deadly.”
  • how the 2018-19 NYS measles outbreak might not have been “true wild-type measles infections.”
  • that the theory of herd immunity is flawed
  • that vaccinated children pose more of a risk to other vaccinated children than the unvaccinated

More than anything though, how can the lawsuit say that New York’s vaccine law unreasonably burdens his “sincere religious beliefs without a compelling state interest,” when we know that the Amish aren’t really against vaccinating and protecting their kids?

You have to wonder what method his lawyer’s used to pick their “examples” of schools with religious exemptions.

About that compelling state interest…

As many parents have come to abuse religious exemptions, using them as personal belief exemptions, we have ended up in a situation in which over 30 schools in New York had religious exemptions rates of at least 50%, including 14 schools in which each and every student had a religious exemption for all vaccines.

All that even though no major religion is against vaccines!

With such a weak case, forum shopping might be his only strategy that could work…
With such a weak case, forum shopping might be his only strategy that could work…

What happens next?

More court stuff, but in the end, it hopefully means that more kids will be vaccinated and protected and we will #StopTheOutbreaks.

More on the Amish and Vaccines

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