Amish communities are avoiding vaccinations and it could spell big problems for them down the road

Amish farmer uses horsepower to plow the soil in Central Pennsylvania.
Amish farmer uses horsepower to plow the soil in Central Pennsylvania. Amish communities are struggling with low vaccine rates compared to the rest of the US. Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • In Holmes County, Ohio – which has the highest concentration of Amish in the US – only 14% of citizens are fully vaccinated.
  • Holmes County speaks to a larger vaccine hesitancy among the country’s 350,000 Amish.
  • A lack of information and a casual attitude toward the virus, along with a faith-based approach to healing, have discouraged the Amish from getting vaccinated.
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In Holmes County, Ohio – which has the highest concentration of Amish in the US – only 14% of its 44,000 residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a New York Times vaccination tracker.

In neighboring Indiana, around 25,000 Amish live in the town of Topeka. Trevor Thain, the owner of the local pharmacy Topeka Pharmacy, told the Associated Press that his business had vaccinated 4,200 people. However, he said only around 20 of them were Amish.

Around 2/3 of the country’s 350,000 Amish live in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Authorities in those states are struggling to convince these communities to get vaccinated.

Amish don’t necessarily outright reject the idea of vaccination, but they tend to take a faith-based approach to healing. They put their trust instead in God, church leaders, and folk remedies.

Even when some from the community choose to get vaccinated, it’s a hushed-up affair.

Marcus Yoder, a Holmes County resident who was born Amish and is now a Mennonite, told NPR in April that the few Amish he knew who were getting vaccinated kept it to themselves.

Yoder said that he ran into several Amish people he knew when getting vaccinated.

“We all kind of looked at each other and smiled underneath our masks and assumed that we wouldn’t say that we saw them,” he told NPR.

Aside from religious beliefs, the communities tend not to be overly concerned with COVID, West Virginia University researcher Rachel Stein told WVU Today.

Stein and several other researchers published “Closed but Not Protected: Excess Deaths Among the Amish and Mennonites During the COVID‑19 Pandemic” in The Journal of Religion and Health earlier this month.

“There’s been a lot of minimizing of the severity of COVID,” Stein told the outlet. “There’s a perception that COVID is like the flu. If people get sick, then people get sick and will eventually get over it.”

Many Amish communities also mistakenly believe they’ve reached herd immunity since so many residents have already gotten sick. They believe vaccinations are unnecessary.

That’s the number one reason we hear,” Alice Yoder, executive director of community health at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, told the AP. Around 40,000 Amish live in the Lancaster area.

Many Amish are also reluctant to follow recommendations after the US government angered religious groups by restricting in-person worship early in the pandemic.

“When this pandemic hit and the state prohibited worship, they didn’t take it lightly,” Corey J. Colyer, one of Stein’s fellow research partners, told WVU Today. “They don’t look at it as a ‘nanny state’ or a government overstepping its bounds. They take it as persecution. Any attempt to curtail religious gathering and practice interferes with their sacred business.

“When states step in and say, ‘You can’t gather for Church,’ they say, ‘Well, there’s man law and there’s God’s law. We’re going to follow God’s law.'”

Marcus Yoder believes vaccine hesitation comes from a basic lack of information about the virus and a blinkered view of the outside world.

“They’re saying, ‘Well, it didn’t affect me that much. Look at all these old people who survived,'” he told NPR.

“I think we’re going to see some more cases in our community, unfortunately, because of this,” he continued. “There simply is a lot of COVID news fatigue. They simply do not want to hear about it, and that’s really unfortunate.