Vaccination and religion
Vaccination and religion have interrelations of varying kinds.
The influential Massachusetts preacher Cotton Mather was the first known person to attempt smallpox inoculation on a large scale, inoculating himself and over 200 members of his congregation with the help of a local doctor. While his pro-health view became standard, he also caused the first reaction against the practice.
Rowland Hill (1744–1833) was a popular English preacher acquainted with Edward Jenner, the pioneer of smallpox vaccination, and he encouraged the vaccination of the congregations he visited or preached to. He published a tract on the subject in 1806, at a time when many medical men refused to sanction it. Later he became a member of the Royal Jennererian Society, which was established when vaccination was accepted in Britain, India, the USA and elsewhere. John C. Lettsom, an eminent Quaker physician of the day wrote to Rowland Hill commenting:
You have done more good than you imagine;
Several Boston clergymen and devout physicians formed a society that opposed inoculation in 1798. Others complained that the practice was dangerous, going so far as to demand that doctors who carried out these procedures be tried for attempted murder.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first state in America to make vaccination mandatory, in 1809.
Iceland in 1816 made the clergy responsible for small pox vaccination and gave them the responsibility of keeping vaccination records for their parishes; Sweden also had similar practices.
When vaccination was introduced into UK public policy, and adoption followed overseas, there was opposition from social cranks and trade unionists, including sectarian ministers and those interested in self-help and alternative medicines like homeopathy.
Anti-vaccination proponents were most common in Protestant countries. Those that were religious often came from minority religious movements outside of mainstream Protestantism, including Quakers in England and Baptists in Sweden.
Catholic and Anglican missionaries vaccinated Northwest Coast Indians during an 1862 smallpox epidemic.
In the UK, a number of Vaccination Acts were introduced to control vaccination, starting in 1840, when smallpox inoculation was banned. The 1853 Act introduced compulsory free infant vaccination enforced by local authorities. By 1871, infant vaccination was compulsory and parents refusing to have their child vaccinated were fined and imprisoned if the fines were not paid. Resistance to compulsion grew, and in 1889—after riots in Leicester—a Royal Commission was appointed and issued six reports between 1892 and 1896. It recommended the abolition of cumulative penalties. This was accomplished in the 1898 Act which also introduced a conscience clause that allowed parents who did not believe vaccination was efficacious or safe to obtain exemption. This extended the concept of the "conscientious objector" in English law. A further Act in 1907 made it easier to obtain exemption.
Opposition by some fundamentalists is a major factor in the failure of polio immunization programs. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban have issued fatwas opposing vaccination as an American plot to sterilize Muslims. The Taliban have kidnapped, beaten, and assassinated vaccination officials, including assassinating the head of Pakistan's vaccination campaign in Bajaur Agency. This opposition is not just religious paranoia, as the CIA has been caught using fake vaccination programs.
In the early 2000s leaders in northern Nigeria advised their followers not to have their children vaccinated with oral polio vaccine. The boycott caused cases of polio to arise not only in Nigeria but also in neighboring countries. The followers were also wary of other vaccinations, and Nigeria reported over 20,000 measles cases and nearly 600 deaths from measles from January through March 2005. In 2006 Nigeria accounted for over half of all new polio cases worldwide. Outbreaks continued thereafter; for example, at least 200 children died in a late-2007 measles outbreak in Borno State.
The cell culture media of some viral vaccines, and the virus of the rubella vaccine, are derived from tissues taken from therapeutic abortions performed in the 1960s, leading to moral questions. For example, the principle of double effect, originated by Thomas Aquinas, holds that actions with both good and bad consequences are morally acceptable in specific circumstances, and the question is how this principle applies to vaccination. The Vatican Curia has expressed concern about the rubella vaccine's embryonic cell origin, saying Catholics have "...a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems." The Vatican concluded that until an alternative becomes available it is acceptable for Catholics to use the existing vaccine, writing, "This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible."
Some conservative U.S. Christian groups oppose mandatory vaccination for diseases typically spread via sexual contact, arguing that the possibility of disease deters risky sexual contact. For example, the Family Research Council opposes mandatory use of vaccines against the human papillomavirus, writing, "Our primary concern is with the message that would be delivered to nine- to 12-year-olds with the administration of the vaccines. Care must be taken not to communicate that such an intervention makes all sex 'safe'."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made vaccination an official initiative in its humanitarian relief program. The Church has also called on its members to see that their own children are properly vaccinated.
In the U.S., all states except Mississippi and West Virginia allow parents to opt out of their children's otherwise-mandatory vaccinations for religious reasons. The number of religious exemptions rose greatly in the late 1990s and early 2000s; for example, in Massachusetts, the rate of those seeking exemptions rose from 0.24% in 1996 to 0.60% in 2006. Some parents are falsely claiming religious beliefs in order to get exemptions. The American Medical Association opposes such exemptions, on the grounds that they endanger health not only for the unvaccinated individual but also for neighbors and the community at large.
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H-440.970 Religious Exemptions from Immunizations