The Amish may not be a great population for a vaccinated/unvaccinated study

10 Aug

The recent attempt to legislate brought back the subject of the Amish, vaccination and autism. It’s an old idea, made popular by a journalist whose work was, shall we say, less than complete.

House Resolution 1757 (still stuck in committee) states:

” Target Populations- The Secretary shall seek to include in the study under this section populations in the United States that have traditionally remained unvaccinated for religious or other reasons, which populations may include Old Order Amish…”

Whenever the Amish are brought forward as a population for vaccinated/unvaccinated studies, people present many reasons why such an idea lacks rigor.

1) The Amish do vaccinate. They have no prohibition against vaccination. (i.e. the statement that “because the Amish have a religious exemption from vaccination” is incorrect).

2) “The” Amish is a bit of a misnomer. Amish is more of a plural, as in a group of basically island populations which have been developing somewhat independently genetically for a few hundred years.

3) Talking about studying the Amish as though one has the right to just force them to submit is very disrespectful. And a bad assumption. One does not tell a community that they have to be study subjects. One asks. The Amish may very well not want the entire population screened for autism.

There are more arguments. Valid arguments. But without some cold, hard, numbers the response that usually comes up is, “Ah, you are afraid of what we will find!”

No, if one is going to do a study, one should be rigorous. One should get as close to the correct answer as possible. Studying the Amish as an “unvaccinated” population with “no” (or little) autistic subpopulation is to start out with little chance for success.

But how about some cold, hard numbers (I mean, beside from the fact that the Amish vaccinate and there are autistic Amish).

Here’s a talk presented this summer by the DDC Clinic in Ohio. This clinic is following the model of the cleverly hidden “Clinic For Special Children” that a certain journalist failed to contact before publishing his conclusions. In the description of the Clinic you will find:

A 501(c) (3) non-profit organization located in
Middlefield of Ohio, Geauga Amish settlement
• Total population ~95,000, Amish ~14,000 (15%)
• 50% of developmental disabilities are from Amish
• One hour (but a world) away from world class healthcare

Yes, they are 15% of the local population but account for about 50% of the developmentally disabled population for their community.

In other words, the prevalence of developmental disability is more than five times that of the general population.

Do you still want to compare this population for long term health outcomes and vaccination status? Do you want to say, “hey, here’s a population that doesn’t vaccinate and they have more developmental disability than the rest of the population?”

That’s what people have been pointing out for years in stating that genetically the Amish are somewhat distinct from the rest of the U.S. population. The proposed study will run into big problems.

Why does the Clinic for Special Children (and similar clinics) exist? They aren’t just there because the Amish are likely to be underserved in general since they lack insurance (which, I’ve been told, is something the Amish avoid). The Clinic’s mission statement is:

The Clinic for Special Children was established in 1989 as a non-profit medical service for Amish and Mennonite children with genetic disorders. The Clinic serves children by translating advances in genetics into timely diagnoses and accessible, comprehensive medical care, and by developing better understanding of heritable diseases.

Again, they are a small, island-like population. Many genetic conditions are more common in their communities. Many are metabolic conditions. (Dr. Morton’s talk at the conference was “Approach to Care for Patients with Metabolic Disorders”). Conditions which put people at greater risk of harm from infections, hence the reason that people have been working to increase vaccine uptake in the Amish over the past 3 decades.

The Clinic for Special Children has been an example of how focusing on genetic conditions can have major impacts on the well being of those with the conditions. Over the past 30 years, the Clinic has pioneered efforts which have resulted in better health and longer lives for their patients. Too often we hear in the autism communities that genetic conditions mean “no hope”.

I’ll leave you with the words of Dr. Holmes Morton of the Clinic for Special Children. Words from the Clinic’s main page:

“Special children are not just interesting medical problems, subjects of grants and research. Nor should they be called burdens to their families and communities. They are children who need our help, and if we allow them to, they will teach us compassion. They are children who need our help, and if we allow them to, they will teach us love. If we come to know these children as we should, they will make us better scientists, better physicians, and thoughtful people.”

By Matt Carey

7 Responses to “The Amish may not be a great population for a vaccinated/unvaccinated study”

  1. Darwy August 11, 2013 at 08:36 #

    I’ve always been flabbergasted at folks who point to the Amish as a model population for autism studies.

    The magnitude of confounding variables present between the Amish and the general population is enormous – especially for the type of study the AV’ers want to see.

    How do they propose to compensate for all those differences; lifestyle, environment, nutrition, etc – even if we ignore the elephant in the room which is the genetics?

    You’ve likened them to a small island – I’ll take it a step further and call it inbred. There is an enormous level of genetic homogeneity in the Amish population which is absolutely not found in the general population.

    • Lawrence August 11, 2013 at 13:50 #

      @Dawry – Those are excellent questions, which I’m sure the anti-vax folks haven’t even considered. The genetic conditions prevalent in the various Amish communities are well known – which would, by itself, create numerous challenges to even begin using them as a subset for research about health outcomes….

      • Darwy August 11, 2013 at 19:28 #

        Of course they don’t consider it. They only consider Dan Olmstead’s ‘expose’ regarding the Amish.

        Amish, to them, is apparently a ‘one size’ name – they don’t make any distinguishing between old order, new order, etc – each Bishop is pretty much the kaiser of the community and each community can be very, very different from the next – despite all being Amish.

  2. vmgillen August 12, 2013 at 18:36 #

    …and what about the Menonites?

  3. Jaimie February 5, 2014 at 17:36 #

    Not just genetics but what about how the cellphones that make bees go crazy? Could that also make peoples senses unknowingly go crazy? Example spd? Amish people.. Don’t carry cellphones .. don’t have towers All around them. What about processed, foods? Or foods with bug sprays or foods/milk with growth hormones? I am sure they have none of this. It could be anything or a combination of things. We can’t say it is one thing with out ruling out everything else. Sure it could be vaccinations but we will never no until everything is studied an eliminated as the problem. Could be something we dot even think about or something someone doesn’t want us to think about.. So they keep blaming the vaccines.. The one thing that could be saving us… And yet possibly cell phones that we use and love…every day could play a role in spd, ADHD, autism… Who is ready to study that?

  4. ForcedSterilizationWorks January 28, 2015 at 12:53 #

    The Amish may not be a great population for a vaccinated/unvaccinated study <—– well, you don't say


  1. Saturday Blogroll: Amish and Autism, Inside a School, and Homemade Bread | Amish Recipes Oasis Newsfeatures - August 10, 2013

    […] AUTISM AND THE AMISH:  Some people who are against vaccines have latched onto the idea that the Amish don’t vaccinate their children and that the Amish don’t suffer from autism as much.  The problem with that theory is that the Amish do generally vaccinate their children.  Or at least it’s a mixed bag, there’s no widespread movement among the Amish that I’ve ever seen rejecting vaccinations.  I’m sure some Amish don’t, but plenty do.  If the prevalence of autism is less among the Amish I’d be more apt to study environmental factors that might be at play or the role of genetics.  Here’s an interesting piece on the topic. […]

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