The Amish don’t get autism because they don’t get vaccinated! The headlines shout out from the most debunked health site on the internet, Natural News, anti-vax web sites, various naturopathic sites and most likely your Facebook feed. This thoroughly erroneous view has been gaining traction lately and a perfect example of the misinformation relentlessly spewed out by anti-vaxxers.
What they also espouse is that the Amish rarely get sick – another fib easily discredited. They definitely do have lower incidences of certain cancers compared to the rest of the US population. The reasons for this are obvious – their conservative clothing covers their entire bodies from the beaming sun, they don’t engage in risky sexual behaviors, they eat healthy, get plenty of rigorous exercise, and they certainly don’t smoke or drink.
Let’s begin with autism. The International Society for Autism Research set out to determine the “Prevalence Rates of Autism Spectrum Disorders Among the Old Order Amish”. The conclusion:
“Preliminary data have identified the presence of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) in the Amish community at a rate of approximately 1 in 271 children using standard ASD screening and diagnostic tools although some modifications may be in order. Further studies are underway to address the cultural norms and customs that may be playing a role in the reporting style of caregivers, as observed by the ADI (Autism Diagnostic Interview). Accurate determination of the ASD phenotype in the Amish is a first step in the design of genetic studies of ASD in this population.”
Another study published in the journal Pediatrics clearly establishes that while autism rates are lower in the Amish community than the general population, the rates are significant, and certainly not non-existent, as the anti-vaxxers contend:
“Holmes County, Ohio, one of the largest Amish communities in the world, has persistently low immunization rates. Studies of other Amish communities have revealed that parents do not immunize their children because of lack of access to immunizations. Our study explored reasons that Amish parents in the previously uninvestigated Holmes County population exempt themselves from immunizations.
“Thirty-seven percent of the parents responded. Among the 359 respondents, 68% stated that all of their children had received at least 1 immunization, and 17% reported that some of their children had received at least 1 immunization. Only 14% of the parents reported that none of their children had received immunizations. Eighty-six percent of the parents who completely exempted their children from vaccines stated that the main reason they do not vaccinate their children is concern over adverse effects. Many parents indicated that they allow their children to receive only some vaccines because of concern about the way certain vaccines are produced.”
The consequences of lower immunization rates in certain Amish communities have led to predictable outbreaks:
“The largest outbreak of measles in recent U.S. history is underway. Ohio has the majority of these cases — 341 confirmed and eight hospitalizations. The virus has spread quickly among the largely unvaccinated Amish communities in the center of the state.”
This has caused many in the community to reassess their views:
“Ervin Kauffman reassures his six children as they squeeze into a small back office for their second shot for mumps, measles and rubella since the outbreak began. While many Amish are not against vaccines in principle, many, including Kauffman's children, have never had shots. ‘I guess there was no scare to us before,’ Kaufman says. ‘I guess we were too relaxed.’
“Kauffman says the outbreak has changed other customs, too. ‘We're just now starting with weddings,’ he says. Spring is the Amish wedding season, a time when hundreds come together, often traveling from other states and sometimes Canada. Those weddings were postponed. Church services, typically held in family homes, were also curtailed. ‘We didn't have church for almost two months because of the measles, so we wouldn't spread them, so we kind of tried to put the clamp on them,’ he says.”
Now let’s examine the concept that the Amish never get sick. The Atlantic recently ran a piece exposing anti-vaxxers and their desperate fabrications:
“Almost all of the roughly 250,000 Amish people in the U.S. can trace their roots back to a few hundred Swiss farmers who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 18th century. The centuries of isolation and intermarriage has forged tight-knit communities, sure, but it has also caused widespread genetic problems.
“One example is Maple Syrup Urine Disease—so named for the smell of the sufferer’s urine and ear wax—which causes the body to be unable to metabolize protein. Most people with MSUD experience vomiting, seizures, and brain damage starting in infancy, and they die early.
“Only one out of every 180,000 babies in the general population is born with the disease, but it strikes one out of every 358 Amish babies. Treatment usually involves avoiding meat and dairy entirely—which is tough to manage in the ‘all-natural’ Amish lifestyle. Liver transplants are another option, but few Amish can afford them.”
The Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, established by Dr. D. Holmes Morton and his wife in 1989, serves Amish and Mennonite families and is on the cutting edge of genetic research. They have 16 full time staff and 1,083 active patients. Their 2016 Patient Care Stats:
Biochemical & genetic tests: 3,897
Patient visits: 1,560
Known variants managed that cause disease: 225
The New York Times went into some depth examining the work of the above mentioned pioneering doctor and his work:
“Dr. D. Holmes Morton stood at the front of the red-and-white-striped tent set up in a farm pasture in Lancaster County, Pa. Behind him were a horse and a buggy -- his host's main mode of transportation -- and a whitewashed barn and silo. To his left was a sunken barbecue pit, with 60 chickens cooking inside a homemade wire-mesh spit. Before him were seven families, upward of 50 people. The women wore bonnets and aprons, the men, long pants and long sleeves, in keeping with their Mennonite ways. Many of the youngest were in wheelchairs. One teenage girl had her left heel in her mouth. A boy was chewing on the handout Morton had distributed. It was two pages long and titled ‘Pretzel Syndrome.’
“The families had gathered here at the Weaver farm on this sticky July afternoon so that Morton could tell them what was wrong with their children. He could not give them a scientific name for their disease, because it did not have one yet. Morton and his team had discovered the existence of this illness only a few weeks earlier. Nor could he tell them how to cure it, or how to ease its symptoms, or what the future held for their kids -- though he said he hoped that would come in time. All he could tell them then was why -- why their children looked different, and had seizures, and could not speak, and died young. Why the youngsters' joints were so elastic that they could rest their feet behind their heads, their bodies twisted like pretzels. The cause, he could say with brand-new certainty, lay in their genes.”
Morton treats 700 pediatric patients, who combined have more than 60 rare disorders:
“Although they (the Amish) keep their distance from most technology, they have developed a trust in doctors because they suffer from so much disease. It was also an introduction to their ways of paying for health care. The Old Order Amish do not accept government assistance, and therefore they do not get Medicaid. They also don't carry private insurance but rather rely on the community to cover bills that individuals cannot cover themselves.”
A fairly well balanced look at the vaccine debate by PBS’s Frontline. Both sides are accurately represented. Three highlights:
Jenny McCarthy caught in an outright lie: 31 minutes 20 seconds -35 minutes 13 seconds
A typical victim of anti-vaccine beliefs: 44 minutes 23 seconds - 47 minutes 20 seconds
Who are the vulnerable? 48 minutes 36 seconds – 50 minutes 58 seconds
Kids & Autism: Peer-Reviewed Studies That Make Anti-Vaxxers Squirm http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2016/07/kids-autism-peer-reviewed-studies-that.html
Anti-Vaccine: Fraud, Paranoia & Vulnerable Children at Risk http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2014/12/anti-vaccine-fraud-paranoia-vulnerable.html
How To Avoid Bad Medical Advice: A Basic Guideline http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2016/05/how-to-avoid-bad-medical-advice-basic.html
Well-Meaning Parents Placing Their Children At Risk http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2017/01/well-meaning-parents-placing-their.html
It’s Complicated! How Apathy Leads To Risky Medical Decisions http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2017/02/its-complicated-how-apathy-leads-to.html