People who argue against vaccines on the grounds that they’re unsafe or ineffective are essentially making the same assumptions that those who are in favour of vaccines make: that disease, suffering and death are unnecessary and meaningless evils that should be avoided. Both groups strive to be decent people; they’re, on the whole, people who don’t wish to see children dead, disabled or in pain. It’s just that one group happens to be wrong and foolish, and the other is not. For it is so: the old, long-tested and tried vaccines against childhood illnesses have, in fact, reduced diseases, suffering and death. There’s no real controversy. They work.
However, it is odd, but not surprising, given the general state of human confusion, to see this first group of vaccine “sceptics” (as they’d probably prefer to describe themselves, rather than, more suitably, as vaccine crackpots) defend the anthroposophical avoidance of vaccines. It is true that there’s many an anthroposophist — or hang-around in anthroposophical milieus — who’d jump on the ordinary, foolish anti-vaccine train, for whatever reason. It’s perhaps more palatable, and thus enticing, to be against vaccines for reasons like wanting to save lives and minimize suffering. It’s easier to be seen as a good person when arguing in that way (as long as someone doesn’t point out that you’re a fool) — that is, if it works, it makes you a good person in a materialistic world which defines good in terms of physical survival, in absence of pain and suffering and, not to forget, in earthly delights.
HOWEVER. That view doesn’t really emanate from anthroposophy. I don’t know why I have to keep reminding people of this, but apparently I do. When arguments around anthroposophical abstention from vaccines (in particular, and most concerning, childhood vaccines and old and tested vaccines against, e g, polio; we can leave the ordinary flu shots aside) keep for ever rotating around the issue of whether vaccines save lives and reduce suffering or instead are impotent to do anything at all or cause various ailments, ills or diseases, well, then you’ve completely left anthroposophical territory. (The answer again is clear, by the way, and debate is pointless: the good by far outweighs any arm, no matter how you count).
That stuff has nothing whatsoever to do with the reasoning behind anthroposophical reluctance to use vaccines. What people need to get into their miniscule human heads is that anthroposophy is a spiritual philosophy — now, mark the word spiritual — which does not shy away from human suffering, death or disease. On the contrary. It is very explicit about the idea that things happen for a reason; the child needs disease to develop properly; the individual needs disease and suffering, or sometimes even premature death, for his or her spirit evolve over this lifetime and over many incarnations; humanity as a whole needs disease, death and suffering to evolve and progress.
What to the materialistic mind are bad and unnecessary events — that’s how people often spoke of them: as unnecessary, meaningless evils — become the indispensable engines of progress; you can’t have only the good, the nice and the pretty things; as this world is built up, you can’t just live in a blissful paradisiacal condition, as doing that would not only be impossible but would mean stagnation. It wasn’t necessarily meant for the world would become like this — but occult forces, supersensible powers, human free will coming into existence, and so on, and here we are, with our suffering and our broken world. No need to shed tears or to be despondent: if instead you shed the materialistic assumption that the physical here and now is all there is, then you get a second chance, and a third… and so on. Making use of the ill and the good that befall you (or rather, that you yourself seek out even before you incarnate!), there’s always the next incarnation, always the next human epoch, to look forward to.
And there’s the rub: it’s useless to defend the anthroposophical abstention from vaccines by pointing out that vaccines cause evil, at least more evil than the diseases they prevent, or if you argue that they don’t really prevent diseases, that it’s just a scam, then that’s absolutely illogical too, from the anthroposophical standpoint. As I’ve pointed out, anthroposophy has no beef with evil, suffering or death. They’re all unavoidable aspects of life and the universe (as in fact they are for everyone else, though the willingness to accept it varies). From an anthroposophical viewpoint there’s no reason at all to try to argue that vaccines are bad or don’t work; vaccines can be excellent in their efficiency to do what they aim for, but, for spiritual reasons, be avoided anyway. The child is thought to need the disease for its proper development, and there’s nothing in that idea that necessitates a denial of the effectiveness of vaccines. Quite the contrary: if, e g, the reviled MMR vaccines were a scam — which any anthroposophical doctor, if not the ordinary fool, can determine for themselves they’re not — then vaccines wouldn’t be half as bad! If humanity needs to suffer, it will suffer, karma will make sure of it, and there’d be no need to argue that vaccines are bad because they don’t really diminish suffering! The “problem” with vaccines is (if anything) not that they don’t work, it’s that they do work. For disease is not an unnecessary, pointless evil to be avoided at all cost. Disease exists for a reason.
Now, what we have here is not really a difference in the view on vaccines — what we have is a fundamental difference in how people see the world and the meaning of human life. To put it crudely: the ordinary anti-vaccine crackpot and the ordinary vaccine friend — both being materialists — are on the same side. It’s just that one is a fool and the other is, well, less of a fool, at least if we believe that the facts of the material world matter (and they do). But they both swim around in the same little bowl; making opposite arguments from basically the same premises, they share the same water, the same walls that limit their perspective. Anthroposophy, on the other hand, is a whole different kind of fish. It’s really in another bowl, or perhaps — it would say, were it allowed to flatter itself — in an ocean. One can agree or disagree, but you’d have to admit that counting thousands of incarnations over countless millenia and considering a karmic path of evolution on several levels (individual, collective), that’s a perspective infinitely more vast than that of the ordinary world, which is counting only the here and the now and measures progress in spans of a few measly decades.
An additional aspect that confuses people — confuses anti-vaccine folks as well as rationalists and scientifically minded sceptics and probably numerous fans of anthroposophy too, funnily enough — is that anthroposophy would lend itself quite easily to a pro-vaccine stand. Anthroposophy believes that disease is meaningful and an essential part of the karmic path of both individuals and humanity, but it also argues that alleviating pain and suffering is a karmic task. That means: going through disease (or death) affects karma, but so does relieving or preventing suffering (or death). Steiner explicitly says this. Moreover, a vaccine could not even be developed (he says, at least once) unless the disease it is preventing has lost its role as a necessary regulator of human karma. It simply wouldn’t happen. You see, there’s no need for him to deny that vaccines work. Why would he? As for the role of vaccines in aiding the proper development of a child, he says that, sure, vaccines can have detrimental consequences, but these can be counteracted by the right education (because, unlike anti-vaccine people in general, he isn’t solely focused on the physical: the physical and the spiritual levels both matter). If some anecdotes are to be believed, he took the children of the waldorf school to be vaccinated, he was vaccinated himself — again, if it is to be believed… but regardless, anthroposophy is clearly not the one-way street to vaccine denial and refusal that people imagine and often attempt to defend on supposedly “rational” grounds rather than spiritual.