measles transmission from an anthroposophical community

A new study (‘Measles transmission from an anthroposophical community to the general population …’) on a measles outbreak in Germany and Austria in 2008 has been published in June. I find it rather interesting in the light of recent debates and previous blog posts. From the discussion section:

Our investigation showed, that introduction of measles virus into a pocket of susceptible persons like the students of the anthroposophic school in Salzburg city provoked an outbreak and was followed by further spread to the general population with a vaccination coverage below the WHO recommended level.

They discuss why parents choose to not vaccinate, and seem to believe that increased knowledge about the safety of vaccines would change people’s attitudes. However, as (at least some of) these parents are anthroposophists, information about vaccine safety may not be sufficient to convince them. For non-anthroposophist waldorf parents, it may have an impact, though. It is also mentioned that health care providers should inform parents about the benefits of vaccination. But if parents consult anthroposophical doctors, this may not happen; anthroposophical doctors are not always positively inclined towards childhood vaccination… The study recommends awareness campaigns — but why would that help, if those, who are supposed to be made aware, already hold convictions which are (more or less) incompatible with vaccination? Such as a belief that disease is good and even necessary for spiritual reasons? From the conclusions:

This outbreak investigation shows that once the measles virus has found its way into a low-immunized population like an anthroposophic community, the general population – if having vaccination coverage below the WHO recommended level, such as in Bavaria – is at risk of measles outbreaks.

As an aside, I noted an ironic but trivial thing: ‘The National Reference Centre for Measles, Mumps and Rubella in Berlin (NRC) used the Enzygnost Anti-Measles Virus IgM ELISA (Siemens, Germany) for the detection of anti-measles IgM in serum.’ [My emphasis.]

29 thoughts on “measles transmission from an anthroposophical community

  1. In my town in switzerland, if a family had measels they would find lots of young visitors!
    Why??? so that their children would catch it and be imune to it for the rest of their lifes!
    get real!!! and don’t forget the lessons learnt in the past to inform you for future action.

  2. Vaccination would be the thing, then. The children would be immune. Measles would be eradicated. Nobody would have to risk their health and their life.

    ‘so that their children would catch it and be imune to it for the rest of their lifes!’

    Or die. In which reincarnation is the only thing to hope for, for these children.

    Is you Swiss town by any chance a stronghold for anthroposophists?

  3. Other inhabitants in your town — or the inhabitants in adjacent towns — may not be happy about risking their children’s lives, Felix. Get real about that!!!

    You do know, I presume, that measles constitutes a grave danger to small children (who are not old enough for immunizations) and children who suffer from previous health issues (who can’t be vaccinated no matter how much their parents would want it)? People with a suppressed immune system? People undergoing treatments for grave and potentially letal diseases, such as cancer? They depend — for their lives! — on diseases such as measles not to spread in society; they depend on everybody else acting responsibly. Get real, Felix.

    Heaven knows I don’t always act responsibly. But this, to me, is a rather simple question. Don’t spread diseases that can pose a serious danger to others unless you can’t avoid it.

  4. I have to say something more: in a certain way I have more respect for vaccine abstention due to a seriously held spiritual conviction that vaccination is (or can be) a bad thing than I have for ignorance and stupidity. I truly mean this. All these parents who avoid vaccinating their children because they’ve read on some lunatic website that vaccines might not be ‘safe’ or that they contain ‘toxins’ or dead fetuses, they’re just ignorant. I don’t think that’s a splendid basis for making decisions, in particular decisions that put other people, including these parents’ own children, at risk.

    Believing that vaccination may damage the incarnation process or have karmic consequences — that is a belief and not ignorance in the sense described above. I do think it’s a belief that need to be challenged, because to me it’s a pity that parents avoid protecting their children against diseases when prevention is easy and safe. That’s why I keep saying that, in my interpretation, anthroposophical beliefs are certainly not incompatible with childhood vaccination. (I would even say that acting ‘god’ and intervening to intentionally expose children to a dangerous virus could be interpreted as pretty darn revolting — also from an anthroposophical viewpoint, if you will.)

  5. Very well expressed, Alicia. I get the feeling Felix is either childless and/or too young to know of the potentially devastating consequences for a child who suffers a bad attack, – deafness, blindness, brain-damage, death, etc.

  6. Thank you, falk.

    I don’t know how old Felix is, but from previous conversations, I know he’s a waldorf/steiner teacher and that he is a father of children who are not very young (they are in school — or perhaps even out of school by now? Felix?).

    [Edit: miss-spelling…]

  7. I agree with this too (that refusing vaccination for a well-thought-out spiritual purpose) makes more sense and is more something I can respect than acting out of fear based on misinformation.

    Except that if you impose this on *other* people’s children without openly and fully explaining your ideology, I have no respect for that.

  8. Felix Brunner, you said:

    “July 5, 2011 1:37 am
    In my town in switzerland, if a family had measels they would find lots of young visitors!
    Why??? so that their children would catch it and be imune to it for the rest of their lifes!
    get real!!! and don’t forget the lessons learnt in the past to inform you for future action.”

    Felix Brunner is a teacher at the Alderbridge Steiner school in England. Here’s the website:

    This is utterly irresponsible and dangerous, Felix.

  9. Absolutely.

    When I see anthroposophists hide the anthroposophical reasons and instead propagate pseudoscientific junk to justify their anti-vaccine stance, I find it utterly unattractive. I assume they do this because they think it makes them look better, more sciency and less like spiritual loons. But the spiritual reasons make more sense, are more honest, and are thus more respectable. There’s nothing respectable about promoting myths and lies under the guise of some kind of scientific pretention, however. They don’t avoid vaccination because vaccines might not be ‘safe’ or because they contain ‘toxins’ or whatever — and it’s not like this world needs more people spreading this crap around, lending it credibility.

  10. Cool beans, Alicia! Liz’ blog gives me a chance to bring in the Seattle Weekly blog story from early in the year. I just posted this for Liz

    Hi Liz,

    You will be interested in this article in the Seattle Weekly, posted January 2011

    Seattle’s Waldorf School Is King County’s Least Vaccinated

    I started off the comments by issuing a challenge to the Seattle Waldorf community from the Los Angeles Waldorf Community to see which city had the least vaccinated students.

    Excuse me, Seattle, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let your city take the honors for least vaccinated Waldorf school in the USA. All you got is just one dinky little Waldorf school up there. But we down here in Los Angeles have FOUR — count’em 4!! —Waldorf schools in LA County and they rank 1,2,3,4 among ALL SCHOOLS!!! in LA for Highest Vaccination Exemption Rate — at least in Kindergarten, and that’s where it counts with the youngest children.

    I copy below the statistics from the LA Times. Read it and weep, Seattle!

    Los Angeles 4
    Seattle 1

    There are 32 comments in all to date and a Waldorf graduate responded in #31 with his take on vaccination.

  11. Aaaah. The waldorf student said:

    ‘How many of those people speaking out against the waldorf philosophy in this thread have actually been to one of these schools? Experienced them for any length of time?’


    Funny how they *always* assume the people who criticize have no experience. I mean, it can’t be because our experiences that we came upon the idea to criticize, can it!?

  12. Felix Brunner is a teacher at the Alderbridge Steiner school in England. Here’s the website:


    That’s not the website for the Alderbridge Steiner School. Instead, it’s their social network page. I see that John Stumbles mentions Felix as the reincarnated 1st grade teacher. But the more interesting stuff seems to be the talk about financing and this new “Apple Star” initiative.

    But anyway, here is the actual school website

    and there I sat enthralled watching the 5:19 promo video. How beautiful is the school where the kids want to stay all day. I looked for Felix in the video, but alas he wasn’t interviewed. But all the parents and teachers have such wonderful things to say about the school. How dare you be so negative about their school and experience, you fustian malcontent, you!

  13. They always have so many wonderful things to say. It might be because they don’t include the people who have less wonderful things to say. I bet my mum had wonderful things to say about the waldorf school too — at least until she stopped believing in it. It took years, though.

    It’s not like Highland Hall wants Pete to express himself freely in any of their promo videos. And my old waldorf school has surely never asked me… ;-)

    ‘How beautiful is the school where the kids want to stay all day.’

    They would’ve said the same thing about the school I attended. They would’ve said it no matter how unhappy children were. It’s sad, really. We were so lucky to be there, even if we (well, speaking for myself here: I) cried and screamed and tried to escape. If we didn’t want to stay there we ought to want it, and that was what mattered.

    I remember John Stumbles from someplace else. I remember joking about stumbling. But where?

  14. oh, he was on DC’s blog comments. Dear John.

    Website, smegsite Tom, see if I care! That’s where I found the fella. I may be a malcontent but fustian – I bow to your far superior padding ;)

  15. So then, ladies, answer this question:

    did you thus stumble into John or just stumble over him?

  16. whatever it was, it happened a great many times. He stumbled over us first. Then he appeared on all three threads at once. But it ended peacefully – I think – after I insulted him. So he didn’t come out of it too badly imo. Plus I seem to remember that he’s a plumber – is that right? Which is damn useful. Much more useful than say, Felix Brunner.

  17. Wasn’t John Stumbles the guy on the DC Science blog who called me an “anti-Steinerite” – and I misread his post thinking he called me an anti-Semite? LOL… Yeah, I remember him.

  18. ‘He stumbled over us first.’

    I believe he stumbled on a gnome and accidentally fell out of his paradigm — right through the supersensible plumbing system — and into the real world. He has since crawled back to were he came from.

  19. Pete – it was a long comment thread. By the end we were so far from the original post they had to send out coffee and sandwiches – do you remember that? And wind-up torches and breathing equipment.

  20. Alicia,

    Did you ever report on this paper that was published by the –The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology– in January 2006?

    Many of the doctors and researchers involved are from Stockholm, Jaerna, Basel, etc. I recognize the name of the medical doctor Jackie Swartz who is at the Vidar Clinic.

    Anyway, I came across Michael Eggert’s blog today on Egoisten, where he posted about the report as it was re-published in German in from the Medical Tribune of Austria

    I went ahead and translated the Abstract before I found the actual original paper published in English in the JACI-online.

    So here’s the translation of the Austrian abstract followed by the more detailed abstract of the original article.

    How cool that suffering measles lowers your risk for eczema while getting the vaccine leads to higher risk of hay fever!

    Go figure! Those wacky Anthroposophists! Especially the ones around Stockholm!




    STOCKHOLM — reduced hay fever, eczema and asthma: children attending a Waldorf school carry a lower risk of allergies than “normal students.”

    A European study of over 6,600 children between ages 5 and 13 years has clearly demonstrated it. Children who were brought up in accordance with the anthroposophical principles of Rudolf Steiner carried a significantly lower risk of rhino-conjunctivitis, atopic eczema and bronchial asthma than an age-corresponding control group.

    Detailed data analysis showed that the use of antibiotics and antipyretic [fever-lowering] drugs was associated with an increased rate of allergic symptoms in early childhood. In the anthroposophical lifestyle, according to the authors, the use of antibiotics and antipyretics is restricted. Children who had received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination showed an increased risk of hay fever, while [experiencing] actual measles infections was associated with reduced rates of eczema.

    Helen Flöistrup et al, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2006, 117: 59 – 66th


    Anthroposophie: Steiner schützt vor Allergie

    STOCKHOLM – Weniger Heuschnupfen, Neurodermitis und Asthma: Kinder, die eine Waldorfschule besuchen, tragen ein geringeres Allergie-Risiko als gleichaltrige „Normalschüler“.

    Eine europäische Untersuchung an über 6600 Kindern zwischen fünf und 13 Jahren hat es klar gezeigt. Kinder, die nach den anthroposophischen Prinzipien von Rudolf Steiner erzogen wurden, trugen ein deutlich geringeres Risiko für Rhinokonjunktivitis, atopisches Ekzem und Asthma bronchiale als ein altersentsprechendes Vergleichskollektiv.

    Detaillierte Datenanalysen ergaben, dass der Gebrauch von Antibiotika und fiebersenkenden Mitteln in früher Kindheit mit einer erhöhten Rate allergischer Symptome einherging. Im anthroposophischen Lebensstil, so die Autoren, werden Antibiotika und Antipyretika restriktiv gehandhabt, kommentieren die Autoren. Kinder, die eine Masern-Mumps-Röteln-Impfung erhalten hatten, zeigten ein erhöhtes Heuschnupfenrisiko, während eine Masern-Erkrankung mit verminderter Ekzemrate verbunden war. CG

    Helen Flöistrup et al., The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2006; 117: 59 – 66


    Full text of report here:

    The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
    Volume 117, Issue 1, Pages 59-66, January 2006
    Allergic disease and sensitization in Steiner school children

    Abstract copied below



    The anthroposophic lifestyle has several features of interest in relation to allergy: for example, a restrictive use of antibiotics and certain vaccinations. In a previous Swedish study, Steiner school children (who often have an anthroposophic lifestyle) showed a reduced risk of atopy, but specific protective factors could not be identified.


    To investigate factors that may contribute to the lower risk of allergy among Steiner school children.



    Cross-sectional multicenter study including 6630 children age 5 to 13 years (4606 from Steiner schools and 2024 from reference schools) in 5 European countries.



    The prevalence of several studied outcomes was lower in Steiner school children than in the reference group. Overall, there were statistically significant reduced risks for rhinoconjunctivitis, atopic eczema, and atopic sensitization (allergen-specific IgE ≥0.35 kU/L), with some heterogeneity between the countries. Focusing on doctor-diagnosed disease, use of antibiotics during first year of life was associated with increased risks of rhinoconjunctivitis (odds ratio [OR], 1.97; 95% CI, 1.26-3.08), asthma (OR, 2.79; 95% CI, 2.03-3.83), and atopic eczema (OR, 1.63; 95% CI, 1.22-2.17). Early use of antipyretics was related to an increased risk of asthma (OR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.11-2.13) and atopic eczema (OR, 1.32; 95% CI, 1.02-1.71). Children having received measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination showed an increased risk of rhinoconjunctivitis, whereas measles infection was associated with a lower risk of IgE-mediated eczema.



    Certain features of the anthroposophic lifestyle, such as restrictive use of antibiotics and antipyretics, are associated with a reduced risk of allergic disease in children.


  21. Yes, it — and Jackie Swartz — has been mentioned several times here; of course, anthroposophists are still touting thist study. But it’s a small study and perhaps the Järna kids are less allergic — but for what reason? That is highly unclear. And even to establish if they are in fact less allergic or have less exzema — it would require several more studies. I wrote this on critics just now:

    Yes. One idea was that not vaccinating would protect against exzema. But the vaccination / exzema connection has been debunked in more recent studies.

    ‘Unvaccinated kids differ from vaccinated kids only in having a much higher risk of vaccine-preventable disease!’

  22. I see that they have debunked the first half, namely the vaccination/allergy connection, but I don’t see where they dealt with the second half, which is the possible connection between actually having the measles rash and then perhaps developing an immunity to eczema.

    Who knows, it might be a good topic for medical research since the actual measles rash and eczema might correlate in some way, or even have some common points of etiology.

    And then who knows, out of it could come a treatment for poison ivy!

  23. But if there is indeed a lower incidence of eczema in anthroposophical families — that would have to be established through more studies — the causal connection could be anything; the study by Swartz, et al, does not point to any specific cause, only to a range of possible hypotheses. They say anthroposophic lifestyle correlate, in their findings, with less eczema. They mention a number of lifestyle factors that might be the cause(s).

    If children who haven’t been vaccinated don’t differ from their vaccinated peers in any way (except they’re more likely to catch the disease), then these unvaccinated kids are more likely to have gone through measles (and other childhood diseases), and thus the measles rash, and these children don’t have less eczema than other kids.

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