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Children's Vaccines Health Center

Ohio Amish Rethink Vaccines Amid Measles Outbreak

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Ervin Kauffman reassures his six children as they squeeze into a small back office for their second MMR shot (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. Many babies are born at home and do not regularly see a pediatrician. They also don’t attend public schools.

"I guess there was no scare to us before, I guess we were too relaxed," Kauffman says. "I guess I never was a fear for it."

Kauffman says the outbreak has changed other customs, too. Spring is the Amish wedding season, a time when hundreds come together, often traveling from other states and sometimes Canada. Those weddings were postponed. "We're just now starting with weddings," he says.

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.

Ohio state health department officials confirm the outbreak began in Knox County after Amish men returned from a mission trip to build houses in the Philippines.

The men at first believed they had contracted Dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes, Fletcher says. But as they recovered, their illness spread. And by April, Fletcher says members of the Amish community recognized the rashes and realized it was measles.

Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller came out to visit Fletcher's clinic to lend support to the vaccination effort. She has no idea how many are still at risk of contracting the illness.

"It's hard to answer that because we still don't know what the number is of who has the potential to be sick," she explains.

That's because there's simply no official count of how many Amish live in Ohio. Researchers at Ohio State University estimate about 33,000 live in the six-county area where the outbreak began.

At last count, 8,000 people in those counties have been vaccinated.

But Miller fears the measles will continue to spread because there is still resistance to vaccinations, particularly among Old Order Amish. Paul Raber is skeptical and says he believes God won’t give him more than he can handle. Still, he did decide to get the measles vaccine for him and his family. The 35-year-old father of 11 isn't sure if he or his family will get more vaccinations. "We might, we might," he says, sounding doubtful.

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