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
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
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
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
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
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.