COVID-19 affecting Amish community adversely, despite rumors they’re unaffected

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Photo via Christy Trent/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: Aug. 3, 2021

The Amish community in Ohio is being adversely affected by COVID-19, attributed to a combination of community members’ frequent gatherings and a near-total refusal to get vaccines.

NPR reported that the Amish communities of northeast Ohio are experiencing some of the state’s highest infection and death rates, in part attributable to “textbook communal living,” in which “families eat, work, and go to church together,” with mask wearing and social distancing infrequently practiced throughout the pandemic.

There’s also a resistance to vaccination as part of the Amish’s technology-adverse practices. “Holmes County, where half of the population is Amish, has the lowest vaccination rate in Ohio, with just 10% of its roughly 44,000 residents fully vaccinated,” NPR noted. “Less than 1% of Amish have received any doses of vaccine, according to Michael Derr, the county’s health commissioner.”

In Pennsylvania, one official said there’s been a general belief in the Amish community that because so many people were sick early in the pandemic, they must have a herd immunity built up at this point.

Health officials there are reaching out to community leaders, including religious leaders, in an effort to increase vaccination rates. But not many Amish community members are turning out for vaccinations—and those who are doing so have been secretive about it.

Marcus Yoder, a Holmes County resident, was born Amish and is now Mennonite, but he still has ties to the region’s Amish community. He told NPR that “the few Amish who are getting vaccinated are doing so privately through doctors’ offices and small rural clinics—and, they are keeping it to themselves.”

“There were Amish people getting the vaccination the same day I was,” Yoder confessed, “and we all kind of looked at each other and smiled underneath our masks and assumed that we wouldn’t say that we saw them.”

Yoder also noted that Amish residents are skeptical about both efficacy and safety of the vaccines, also touting anti-vaccination conspiracy theories and displaying a lack of awareness around more contagious variants making the rounds.

This isn’t the first instance of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Amish in Ohio. A CDC report tracked a May 2020 outbreak in Wayne County in which 77% of a 30-person group tested positive following a number of community gatherings in the weeks preceding the outbreak. Researchers reported, “Several interviewees reported misconceptions that mask-wearing might cause harm … and that vitamins and herbs can help prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

More recently, as USA Today reported in February, misinformation is circulating on social media that Amish communities are unaffected by COVID-19.

The article notes, “One meme is using an altered photo to claim Amish people are unaffected by the virus because they don’t own televisions,” with a woman asking, via dialogue bubble, “Why isn’t COVID affecting you people?” and a man wearing a straw hat and sporting a long beard responding, “We don’t have TV.”

Another post that circulated on social media in September 2020 read, “6 months later and the Amish are all still alive and Covid free. Their cure = No TV!”

USA Today debunked both of those, observing, “Although rules vary between Amish communities, owning electronics like televisions, radios, and computers [are] typically forbidden for Amish life,” and adding that those rules made it more difficult for public health campaigns to reach Amish communities.

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Sources: NPR, CDC, USA Today

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