The ‘International Federation of Anthroposophic Medical Associations’ have just published a ‘Statement on Vaccination‘. Here it is in its full beauty:

Vaccines, together with health education, hygiene and adequate nutrition, are essential tools for preventing infectious diseases. Vaccines have saved countless lives over the last century; for example, they allowed the eradication of small pox and are currently allowing the world to approach the elimination of polio.

Anthroposophic Medicine fully appreciates the contribution of vaccines to global health and firmly supports vaccination as an important measure to prevent life threatening diseases. Anthroposophic Medicine is not anti-vaccine and does not support anti-vaccine movements.

Physicians with training in Anthroposophic Medicine are expected to act in accordance with national legislation and to carefully advise patients (or their caregivers) to help them understand the relevant scientific information and national vaccination recommendations. In countries where vaccination is not mandatory and informed consent is needed, this may include coming to agreement with the patient (or the caregivers) about an individualized vaccination schedule, for example by adapting the timing of vaccination during infancy.

Taking into account ongoing research, local infectious disease patterns and socioeconomic risk factors, individual anthroposophic physicians are at times involved in the scientific discussion about specific vaccines and appropriate vaccine schedules. Anthroposophic Medicine is pro-science and continued scientific debate is more important than ever in today’s polarized vaccine environment.

Already in 2010, The European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education published a press release, implying a similar stance:

We wish to state unequivocally that opposition to immunization per se, or resistance to national strategies for childhood immunization in general, forms no part of our specific educational objectives. We believe that a matter such as whether or not to innoculate a child against communicable disease should be a matter of parental choice. Consequently, we believe that families provide the proper context for such decisions to be made on the basis of medical, social and ethical considerations, and upon the perceived balance of risks. Insofar as schools have any role to play in these matters, we believe it is in making available a range of balanced information both from the appropriate national agencies and qualified health professionals with expertise in the filed. Schools themselves are not, nor should they attempt to become, determiners of decisions regarding these matters.

Such statements sound about right. Why then am I not convinced?

Perhaps because there are hundreds of anthroposophic texts that seem to contradict this pro-vaccination stance (not least those from Rudolf Steiner himself). Today, anthroposophy enthusiasts are frequently rampant anti-vax; look at this quote, for instance:

… anthroposophic and con­ventional medicine have dramati­cally different viewpoints as to what causes common childhood illnesses. Conventional medicine views child­hood illnesses for which vaccines have been developed as a physical disease, inherently bad, to be pre­vented. Their main goal, therefore, is protection against contracting the disease making one free of illness. In contrast, these childhood illnesses are viewed by anthroposophic medi­cine as a necessary instrument in dealing with karma and, as discussed by Husemann, and Wolff, 6 the incar­nation of the child. During childhood illnesses, anthroposophic medical practitioners administer medical remedies to assist the child in deal­ing with the illness not only as a dis­ease affecting their physical body in the physical plane, but also for soul ­spiritual development, thereby pro­moting healing. In contrast, allopathic medicaments are aimed at suppression of symptoms and not necessarily the promotion of healing.

In Manifestations of Karma, Rudolf Steiner states that humans may be able to influence their karma and remove the manifestation of cer­tain conditions, i.e., disease, but they may not be liberated from the karmic effect which attempted to produce them. Says Steiner, “…if the karmic reparation is escaped in one direc­tion, it will have to be sought in another … the souls in question would then be forced to seek another way for karmic compensation either in this or in another incarnation.” 7

In his lecture, Karma of Higher Beings 8, Steiner poses the question, “If someone seeks an opportunity of being infected in an epidemic, this is the result of the necessary reaction against an earlier karmic cause. Have we the right now to take hy­gienic or other measures?” The an­swer to this question must be decided by each person and may vary. For example, some may accept the risk of disease but not of vaccine side effects, while others may accept the risk associated with vaccination but not with the disease.

Anthroposophic medicine teaches that to prevent a disease in the physical body only postpones what will then be produced in an­other incarnation. Thus, when health measures are undertaken to eliminate the susceptibility to a disease, only the external nature of the illness is eliminated. To deal with the karmic activity from within, Anthroposphy states that spiritual education is re­quired. This does not mean that one should automatically be opposed to vaccination. Steiner indicates that “Vaccination will not be harmful if, subsequent to vaccination, a person receives a spiritual education.”

Or consider this little statistic from the US:

Waldorf schools are the leading Nonmedical Exemption [of vaccinations] schools in various states, such as:

  • Waldorf School of Mendocino County (California) – 79.1%
  • Tucson Waldorf Schools (Arizona) – 69.6%
  • Cedar Springs Waldorf School (California) – 64.7%
  • Waldorf School of San Diego (California) – 63.6%
  • Orchard Valley Waldorf School (Vermont) – 59.4%
  • Whidbey Island Waldorf School (Washington) – 54.9%
  • Lake Champlain Waldorf School (Vermont) – 49.6%
  • Austin Waldorf School (Texas) – 48%

Or what about this quote?

Q: I am a mother who does not immunize my children.  I feel as though I have to keep this a secret.  I recently had to take my son to the ER for a tetanus shot when he got a fish hook in his foot, and I was so worried about the doctor asking if his shots were current.  His grandmother also does not understand.  What do you suggest?

A: You didn’t give your reasons for not vaccinating your children.  Perhaps you feel intuitively that vaccinations just aren’t good for children in the long run, but you can’t explain why.  If that’s the case, I think your intuition is correct, but in today’s contentious world it is best to understand the reasons for our decisions and actions.

There are many good reasons today for not vaccinating children in the United States  I recommend you consult the book, The Vaccination Dilemma edited by Christine Murphy, published by SteinerBooks.

So, where is the evidence that anthroposophy-enthusiasts discourage vaccinations?

It turns out, there is plenty of it! In 2011, I summarised some of it in a review concluding that numerous reports from different countries about measles outbreaks centered around Steiner schools seem nevertheless to imply that a problem does exist. In the interest of public health, we should address it.

All this begs a few questions:

  • Are anthroposophy-enthusiasts and their professional organisations generally for or against vaccinations?
  • Are the statements above honest or mere distractions from the truth?
  • Why are these professional organisations not going after their members who fail to conform with their published stance on vaccination?

I suspect I know the answers.

What do you think?

20 Responses to Are anthroposophy-enthusiasts for or against vaccinations?

  • Or, as one opponent of sex education in schools put it, ‘Leave them alone. They’ll learn everything they need to know in the playground’.

  • As a former Anthroposophist and former teacher (very briefly) in Waldorf Schools, I came across two different opinions on this topic, both justifiable in terms of Anthroposophical beliefs. (Things may have changed in the 30 years since then, but I doubt it.)

    One was out and out hostility and opposition to vaccines — etheric forces contained in the pig-derived serums are harmful to developing bodies; and it is through childhood illnesses that Karma from previous incarnations can be expunged or purged, and so are to be encouraged. (Of course, if the child dies, this too is due to Karma, and not criminal negligence.

    The other opinion, and this was the one usually expressed publicly, was that parents should be free to decide for themselves whether or not to vaccinate their children. On closer questioning or confrontation with the science, they would simply say that while one might choose to protect one’s child from chicken pox, the child will have to deal with the Karmic consequences of that decision in its later life. The decision will simply have consequences for the child’s future.

    Teachers tend to have varying interpretations of Anthroposophy,. and frequently don’t really understand it much at all, especially if they just wanted to work in an eco-friendly type of alternative school. So some might even be shocked by the beliefs of their colleagues if they ever really asked.

    (In general I think there are some things of value to be found in Steiner Education, but on grounds of their deadly antivax stance and the white supremacist views that are inevitably implicit in the core beliefs of Anthroposophy, I see no other choice but to condemn the entire movement.)

    • I am glad my two children experienced a Waldorf K-8 education. IMO, they are more well prepared for the world than most of their public-educated peers. Yes, this is purely anecdotal based upon my observations. However, the validity of the education philosophy is not on topic with the article.

      Our local Waldorf school’s vaccination policy is largely in line with those of IFAMA and ECSWE, namely, the school purports to firmly comply with all federal and state laws regarding vaccination. However…. much of the staff, teachers and parents scoff at, belittle and generally scorn those parents who choose to vaccinate their kids. The school is a lightning rod for the anti-vaxx crowd. I am surprised our local school wasn’t listed above. Having formerly been employed there, one of my responsibilities encompassed school health and safety. I can tell you that the vaccination rate was lower than many of the schools cited above.

      I saw absolutely no evidence of white supremacy being presented in the classrooms of my children. White privilege perhaps. I especially agree with your take on the teachers’ understanding of anthroposophy (or lack thereof)–never has any Waldorf teacher been able to present a concise definition and understanding of Steiner’s works to me, and certainly never with any consistency. It would be nice if there were schools that employed the fundamentals of the Waldorf approach, without all the woo.

      • Perhaps I should have been more clear with my reference to white supremacy, or maybe not mentioned it. But I did say “inevitably implicit” white supremacy.

        I was referring to the views on evolution of consciousness which includes a hierarchy of races — blacks like children, yellow races like puberty, whites as adults etc. While it is not taught overtly in schools, and does not necessarily lead to discrimination against individuals of various racial groups (even at Steiner’s most extreme), the idea itself is of course inherently racist. It also does influence the way history is taught in Waldorf schools.

  • We should not be for or against vaccines. We should not be fighting each other as if its a religious debate. The fact is, we should be able to question the science behind the vaccines, the seriousness adverse effects, and agenda behind the urgency.

    In NYC there was just an outbreak. Since we are on the Waldorf subject I am curious as to why I did not see the Waldorf School of New York as being the epicenter of the outbreak since at Green Meadow, the vaccination rate was just 33 percent. There haven’t been any cases of measles confirmed there, the New York Times reported. Perhaps there are other ways.

    About 3 percent of people who receive two doses of the measles vaccine will get measles if they come in contact with someone who has the virus, according to the CDC…my younger sister being one of them. 3 percent is still a highly significant part of the population. Also, even when vaccinated you can shed live virus in body fluids whether you have a viral infection or have gotten a live attenuated viral vaccine. The Johns Hopkins Patient Guide for immuno-compromised patients used to mention avoiding “contact with children who are recently vaccinated”….and for good reason.
    Addressing one of your last points, “Are anthroposophy-enthusiasts and their professional organisations generally for or against vaccinations”, I would say since Waldorf education is the largest growing international group, check all of their statistics. While Green Meadow NYC has non-vaccination rate of 33 percent it also means that 66 percent have vaccinated and also possible that some of the 33 percent have already been exposed to the virus.
    I am personally not an anti-vaxxer…but I am calling for greater health protocols into the fact that there are many deaths and adverse reactions to immunizations. The story is bigger than questioning the spiritual teachings of Anthroposophy which are deeper than our understanding of. Let us start in our own backyard!

    • “We should not be for or against vaccines.”

      You mean we should be *against* being for or against vaccines.

      “We should not be fighting each other as if its a religious debate.”

      Anthroposophy is indeed a religion. It is a very literal form of Christianity.

      The fact is, we should be able to question the science behind the vaccines, the seriousness adverse effects…”

      This has already been to such an extensive degree that extremely accurate information is not only the basis of government policy but is also available to the public. Thus we can choose to be for or against vaccines…

      “….and agenda behind the urgency.”

      Which “agenda” do you assume is “behind the urgency”, and what is the source for your information about it?

  • So here is a good group of people where a long-term study could be conducted on health outcomes of vaccinated vs. un-vaccinated We have little besides short term studies on vaccines to go on. Who knows if we are setting ourselves for another DES-type situation where future generations will pay for our ignorant vaccination policies. What information we have is not promising:
    You would think that the FDA, CDC and big pharma would jump on this as an opportunity to prove how “safe & effective vaccines” are for our future.

    • “We should not be for or against vaccines”
      I’m not sure what you mean by that, since the rest of your post implies that you believe that vaccines work. Given that it is well-established as a safe and effective method of controlling dangerous infections and immunisation has saved millions of lives worldwide, are you saying that it is wrong to be in favour of vaccination? What about other measures designed to prevent disease and injury, such as seat belts and indeed traffic regulations? Purification of drinking water? Testing donated blood for hepatitis, HIV and other infections? Sterilization of surgical instruments?

      “we should be able to question the science behind the vaccines”
      Certainly. That is the way science works, by robustly questioning everything. I doubt if you will find a way of questioning the science more effectively than the scientists involved in vaccine development themselves. It is only by being able to stand up to such questioning that we know that the science behind vaccines is sound.

      “I am curious as to why I did not see the Waldorf School of New York as being the epicenter of the outbreak”
      Perhaps they got lucky and haven’t encountered the infection yet.

      “3 percent is still a highly significant part of the population”
      True, but it means that 97% will have effective immunity. 95% is what is required to prevent measles from spreading, in which case the 3% are unlikely to encounter it.

      “even when vaccinated you can shed live virus in body fluids whether you have a viral infection or have gotten a live attenuated viral vaccine.”
      True. Don’t be complacent just because you have been vaccinated.

      “possible that some of the 33 percent have already been exposed to the virus.”
      Since it is highly contagious we will know soon.

      • “What about other measures designed to prevent disease and injury, such as seat belts and indeed traffic regulations?” Thank you, Julian, for raising something I’ve held back about even mentioning on this blog for some years.

        Isn’t it ironic that we read here so many comments from people who think vaccination is unreasonable because vaccines contain ‘toxins’, sometimes cause side effects (though cause and side-effect are frequently difficult to establish with robust evidence), don’t necessarily provide 100% protection and so on. Yet you can bet that most of the authors of these comments cheerfully drive cars, when it’s unequivocal that 1.25 million people die each year and between 20 and 50 million are injured as a result of road traffic collisions [WHO data referenced in this link].

        Why are there so few anti-vehicle movements? These data are far worse than anything the anti-vaxxists come up with. A very weak justification might be that vaccination is forced on people whereas driving a truck, car or motor bike is not: very weak because few countries truly force vaccination on its citizens. It seems, simply, that we’re happy to accept this appalling level of death and injury on the roads because most of us feel the the benefits of motorized transport outweigh the risks.

        • Actually I think the reason is that people feel in control when driving, as opposed to other forms of transportation, and also most people’s intuitions about risk are completely wrong.

    • “Who knows if we are setting ourselves for another DES-type situation ”
      Do you mean diethylstibestrol and botryoid vaginal tumours in teenage girls? I doubt if many people will understand your reference.

      The link you provide is hardly reliable information. The site gives percentages of vaccinated and unvaccinated people reporting various problems ranging from hay fever to autism and scoliosis. However, these seem to be self-reported, by visitors to the site taking an online survey. Since it is an anti-vax site, I would imagine that the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups probably differ from each other quite considerably. Even if they don’t, simply dividing them into two groups and suggesting to them that their health outcomes should be different (i.e. letting them view the site before taking the survey) would introduce cognitive bias. The number of respondents aren’t given, or whether there were substantially more in one group than the other. There is no attempt to assess whether the responses are representative of any population. Unfortunately the Internet isn’t peer-reviewed, and people can put any nonsense on a Web site and call it evidence.

  • I suspect that anthroposophic doctors who are not (entirely) in private practice maybe more circumspect in talking about vaccination. Most public health services would not be happy about a doctor undermining public health. Regulators vary by jurisdiction in their attitudes but if I remember correctly the Dutch regulator wasn’t very happy with certain Dutch MDs spouting anti-vaccination propaganda.

    Steiner schools often have an anthroposophic doctor (as do the various Camphill outfits). It’s not clear how involved they are with pupils. Research on UK CEASE therapy practitioners (almost entirely lay homeopaths) revealed that a number of them had children at Steiner schools. Yes, anti-vaccination sentiment is apparent.

  • The concern you express about the accuracy (or “truth”) of the statements collected about the issue of immunisation within the Anthroposophical society overlooks the reality that mainstream Western medicine is not a factual means of comparison.

    Science itself is based upon theories that are commonly accepted until proven otherwise. What you read, whether an Anthroposophical opinion or a Government statement, is just a collection of theories about what is deemed “right” by a group of people at a certain time. Views are constantly changing through research and evidence. The most important thing to ask when considering the validity of these “claims to truth” is: who supports the findings and why? Ultimately, who will benefit from them?

    It seems from the evidence you have provided, with high numbers of Waldorf students not being immunised and with the Anthroposophical society’s view towards personal choice, that it is infact the parents who are choosing not to immunise their child of their own free will.

    The reasoning behind this is not clear from the facts you have given and your point of view is biased towards “pro-vaccination”. It would be worthwhile to balance out your argument with some input from the other side to form a complete picture of the issue at hand.

    • my view is simply based on evidence.

    • Two things: firstly, as a former Anthroposophist and Waldorf teacher I can confirm that the basic “Anthroposophical position” on this is that childhood illnesses are an expression of karma from previous lives, and that the child’s “incarnating soul” is strengthened by taking on the challenge of the illness, and the supposed karma “worked out”. Vaccinating a child from this point of view is simply to prevent a child from working out their karma, and they will have to do this later in life, when it will be more difficult. Furthermore, they will be told that vaccinations are harmful to the child’s “etheric forces” and may be told that vaccinations contain etheric forces of pigs.

      Parents of course can’t be prevented from vaccinating their children but are likely to be told that doing so “has consequences” which will make their child’s life more difficult in the long run.

      Second, this statement — “Science itself is based upon theories that are commonly accepted until proven otherwise” — misses something crucial. Science progresses. We do indeed know vastly more about the solar system that Ptolemy did, or about human physiology than even Jonas Salk did a few decades ago. Your statement carefully ignores this.

      And Anthroposophy has not progresses a millimeter since Steiner’s death, because it can’t. No one has confirmed a single one of his spiritual claims. Not one.

  • I can say that our local (St. Louis) Waldorf school, where I am a parent, has parents on both sides of the vaccination debate.

    The school policy itself, though, is simple. We follow the state of Missouri’s guidelines, which require proof of vaccination, proof of immunity due to previous medically diagnosed illness, or an exemption form from the Department of Health itself. Missouri allows exemptions for medical and religious reasons.

    The Missouri Dept. of Health treats the religious exemption as more of a conscientious objector exemption — parents can receive the exemption without belonging to denominations that actually prohibit vaccinations. The result is a high number of religious exemptions, given the low number of qualifying religions. But until the state closes this loophole, that’s where we are.

  • Edzard,

    Could you please tell me where you found the following quote:
    This does not mean that one should automatically be opposed to vaccination. Steiner indicates that “Vaccination will not be harmful if, subsequent to vaccination, a person receives a spiritual education.”

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