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Vaccination and religion



When vaccination was introduced into UK public policy, and adoption followed overseas, there was opposition from both Protestant and Catholic churches.   For example, Timothy Dwight IV, a Congregationalist minister and Yale university president, held that vaccination thwarted God's will, saying:

If God had decreed from all eternity that a certain person should die of smallpox, it would be a frightful sin to avoid and annul that decree by the trick of vaccination.

Several Boston clergymen and devout physicians formed the Anti-vaccination Society in 1798, only two years after Jenner's publication of smallpox vaccination. Others complained that the practice was dangerous, going so far as to demand that doctors who carried out these procedures be tried for attempted murder.[1]

Aims and results of the early movements

In Massachusetts, the argument continued from that about variolation, with a minority religious view strongly put that others should eschew immunization and accept the smallpox that God sent. Cotton Mather and other leaders favored efforts to prevent disease.

In the USA, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first to make vaccination mandatory, in 1908[1]. In the UK, vaccination was provided free from 1840 under the Vaccination Act. In 1873, a further Vaccination Act made vaccination compulsory. Resistance to compulsion grew, and in 1885, after riots in Leicester, a Royal Commission sat and reported 7 years later, recommending the abolition of cumulative penalties. This was accomplished in the 1898 Act, which also introduced a conscience clause, allowing parents who did not believe that vaccination was efficacious or safe to obtain exemption. This extended the concept of the "conscientious objector" in English law. The aims of the protesters and organisations had thus been achieved in 1898.

Name Started Finished Location Unique Proposition / Notes
Anti-vaccination Society 1798 Boston USA Against the will of God
Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League 1866 1880 (segue) Mr. R. B. Gibbs (d. 1871) started it[citation needed]. Revived 1876, President: Rev. W. Hume-Rothery
The Anti-Vaccination Society of America 1879
New England Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League 1882
Anti-Vaccination League of New York City 1885
London Society for the Abolition of Compulsory Vaccination 1880 1896 (segue) Victoria Street, Westminster, London Secretary: Mr William Young. Adopted The Vaccination Inquirer (established 1879 by William Tebb) as the organ of the Society. Published:
  • 14 "Vaccination Tracts" 1877 - completed by Dr Garth Wilkinson in 1879.
  • 1879, "Vaccination Tracts"
  • April 1883 to March 1884, The Vaccination Inquirer Vol V (book) The movement grew[citation needed] and the London Society soon became national so reformed as ...
  • The National Anti-Vaccination League 1896 (Feb) before 1970? England objectives:— repeal of the Vaccination Acts; disestablishment and disendowment of vaccination; abolition of all regulations in regard to vaccination as conditions of employment in State Departments or of admission to Educational or other Institutions.[citation needed] Added in 1921:— vindication of the legitimate freedom of the subject in matters of medical treatment.

    An organization with a general anti-vaccination view but other more significant characteristics was the Nazi party.[2]


    Of the religious denominations normally encountered in the West, only the Christian Scientists and the Dutch Orthodox Reformed church (about 2% of the population of the Netherlands) oppose vaccination and other immunizations.[citation needed]

    Islam and Judaism, religions with dietary prohibitions which regard particular animals as unclean, make exceptions for medical treatments derived from those animals.[3] [4]

    In the early 2000s Islamic religious leaders in northern Nigeria advised their followers to not have their children vaccinated with oral polio vaccine. The boycott caused cases of polio to arise not only in Nigeria but also in neighboring countries. The followers were also wary of other vaccinations, and Nigeria reported over 20,000 measles cases and nearly 600 deaths from measles from January through March 2005.[5] Outbreaks continued thereafter; for example, in June 2007 more than 50 children died and another 400 were hospitalized in Borno State after a measles outbreak, and low immunization rates also contributed to outbreaks of diphtheria.[6] In 2006 Nigeria accounted for over half of all new polio cases worldwide.[7]

    The Vatican Curia has expressed concern about the rubella vaccine's embryonic cell origin, saying Catholics have "a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems."[8] The Vatican concluded that until an alternative becomes available it is acceptable for Catholics to use the existing vaccine, writing, "This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible."[8]

    Some conservative U.S. Christian groups oppose mandatory vaccination for diseases typically spread via sexual contact, arguing that the possibility of disease deters risky sexual contact. For example, the Family Research Council opposes use of the recently approved vaccines against the human papillomavirus, writing, "Our primary concern is with the message that would be delivered to nine- to 12-year-olds with the administration of the vaccines. Care must be taken not to communicate that such an intervention makes all sex 'safe'."[9]


    In the U.S., all but two states allow parents to opt out of their children's otherwise-mandatory vaccinations for religious reasons. The number of religious exemptions rose greatly in the late 1990s and early 2000s; for example, in Massachusetts, the rate of those seeking exemptions rose from 0.24% in 1996 to 0.60% in 2006. Some parents are falsely claiming religious beliefs in order to get exemptions, and some pediatricians are advising parents to lie on their applications.[10]


    1. ^ Andrew Dickson White (1896). "Theological opposition to inoculation, vaccination, and the use of anæsthetics", A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Appleton. 
    2. ^ Steve Fuller (20 August 2005). "What if…the Nazis had won" (Abstract). New Scientist (2513).
    3. ^ "Drugs of Porcine Origin and Their Clinical Alternatives" 2004, retrieved as drugs-of-porcine-origin.pdf from on 15 September 2006
    4. ^ WHO correspondence 17 July 2001, retrieved on 15 September 2006 from as porcine.pdf
    5. ^ Clements CJ, Greenough P, Schull D (2006). "How vaccine safety can become political – the example of polio in Nigeria". Curr Drug Saf 1 (1): 117–9. Retrieved on 2007-07-28.
    6. ^ "Children dying needlessly from measles and other preventable diseases", IRIN, 2007-07-11. Retrieved on 2007-07-28. 
    7. ^ Wild poliovirus weekly update. Global Polio Eradication Initiative (2007-07-25). Retrieved on 2007-07-28.
    8. ^ a b Pontifical Academy for Life (2005). Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human foetuses. Center for Bioethics, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. Retrieved on 2007-08-17.
    9. ^ Danny Fortson. "Moral majority take on GSK and Merck over cancer drugs", The Independent, 2006-06-11. Retrieved on 2006-11-02. 
    10. ^ LeBlanc S. "Parents use religion to avoid vaccines", USA Today, 2007-10-17. Retrieved on 2007-11-24. 
    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Vaccination_and_religion". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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