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By: Vance Dietz, M.D.

The U.S. Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all children, unless with medical contra-indications, routinely receive vaccination to prevent nine diseases: polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type b. 1, 2   

In addition, recommendations for the routine vaccination against varicella (i.e., chicken pox) and hepatitis A have recently, or will be, issued. Depending on the disease, a series of vaccines is administered with the full primary series against all diseases to be completed by two years of age.

These recommendations are based on public health principles geared toward the community, i.e., diseases can and should be prevented to protect those susceptible or those who are likely to have exposure to a disease. Thus, all children are recommended to be vaccinated to protect those who may be at risk. The allopathic medical community bases its recommendation on characteristics of the vaccines, disease epidemiology, and the judgment of public health of­ficials and specialists in clini­cal and preventive medicine who assess the benefits and risks of each vaccine. Benefits and risks are associated with all vaccines; no vaccine is completely safe or ef­fective. Benefits of vaccination range from a partial to almost com­plete protection against the conse­quences of infection which range from asymptomatic or mild infec­tions to severe consequences, such as paralysis associated with polio virus infections. The risks associ­ated with vaccination range from common minor side effects to severe and life threatening conditions.

Vaccination is mandated by law for school entrance with exemptions for philosophical, religious or medi­cal reasons determined at the state level. Currently, an estimated 97% of children are completely vacci­nated at the time of school entry.

Current Attitudes toward Vaccination
Vaccination is considered within allopathic medicine to be one of the most important public health mea­sures available. Proponents of vac­cination point to the decrease in the number of cases of such childhood diseases as measles and in diphthe­ria and polio as evidence of the im­portance of mass vaccination. Thus, the risk of side effects is accepted as necessary to decrease the amount of disease, i.e., the benefits outweigh the risks. Opposition to vaccination ex­ists on philosophical, religious and scientific grounds. For example, some believe that the government does not have the right to mandate vaccination by law; that it amounts to a mass medical intervention with­out informed consent.

Opponents point to the risk as­sociated with vaccines and state that only a parent should decide whether to vaccinate their child and, given the low levels of childhood disease, the risk of side effects outweighs any potential benefit. Some question the long term impact of vaccination on one's health and the advisability of vaccinating young children. Finally, others question the actual effective­ness of the vaccines.

Anthroposophy and Vaccination
Following are personal reflections on some ideas that may be found in anthroposophic medical literature. The viewpoints expressed do not exhaust the literature and it is important to point out that there is no formalized policy on immunization within the practice of anthroposophic medicine. Anthroposophic medicine sees humans as passing through successive earthly lives in­carnated in a physical body, "laying one's karmic founda­tion in one incarnation for the next."' Illness comes to an individual not by chance but as an opportunity to come to terms with one's karma from previous incarnations. Ill­ness provides an individual with a message which ulti­mately assists in self-growth and development. The re­sponsibility of a healer is to assist the human being expe­riencing the illness to deal with it karmically. Thus, pre­vention of an illness may be beneficial in the course of one incarnation but may not be for the entire soul life and development of the person. Anthroposophy views that in early childhood years, soul-spiritual forces permeate the organism and have an organizing effect involving growth.

With the change of teeth, these forces work to a lesser degree as an organizing growth force and are transformed "into something soul-spiritual, let us say, into the force of memory, into the thought-forming force .” However, if transformation of these forces is too weak, then the organizing forces remain and new formations, i.e., cancer, may be en­countered later in life. Rudolf Steiner indicated that childhood dis­eases come about from the opposite tendency, i.e., there is too much of the organizing force during child­hood, "...too much of the soul-spiri­tual from his pre-human, pre-earthly life; this excess then lives itself out in the childhood illnesses." 5 It is believed that these forces, i.e., child­hood diseases, need to be dealt with karmically.

Thus, 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." 9

In Children's Illnesses, 10  Dr. Walter Holtzapfel concurs that one should not withhold a necessary immuniza­tion since any effects can be "smoothed out again, for example, by mental training".

Almost every state allows for an exemption for immunization based on medical or religious grounds. Some states also allow for exemp­tions based on parents' philosophi­cal viewpoints. The U.S. does not have a national policy allowing for such exemptions. Rather, the U.S. Public Health Service provides vac­cination recommendations and then state authorities issue state require­ments and determine exemptions. The issue of immunizations can be highly charged, especially when families do not wish to follow cur­rent recommendations.

This article does not suggest that one choice is better than another. It does, however, encourage parents to become well informed on the risks and benefits of both the diseases and the vaccines and consult their medi­cal provider to arrive at the best de­cision for their child and their fam­ily.

For more information see a Parent's Guide to Childhood Immu­nization (from the U.S. Public Health Service); A Guide to Child Health, Chapter 7, by Michaela Gloeckler and Wolfgang Goebel (anthropo­sophical physicians); and Mothering Magazine (Issue #70 Summer 1996; Vaccination: The Issue of Our Times) which is devoted to explor­ing both sides of the vaccination de­bate.



1. CDC. General Recommendations on Immunizations. MMWR 1994; 43: No. RR-1.

2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Chapter: Active and Passive Immunization. In: Peter G, ed. 1994 Red Book: Report of the Committee on Infectious Disease. 23tf rf. Elk Grove Village, IL; American Academy of Pediatrics, 1994.

3. Manifestations of Karma, R. Steiner, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1992.

4. Physiology and Therapeutics, R. Steiner, Lecture II, October 8, 1920. Mercury Press, Spring Valley, NY, 1986. P. 17.

5. Ibid 4. P. 19.

6. The Anthroposophical Approach to Medicine, Husemann F, Wolff, O., Volume 1. Chapter 11, Anthroposophic Press 1982: 40-48.

7. Ibid 3. P. 99.

8. Ibid 3. P. 191-192.

9. Ibid 3. P. 195.

10. Children's Illnesses, W. Holtzapfel, Mercury Press, Spring Valley, NY 1989. P. 25.

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