Members of an Ohio Amish community normally reluctant to vaccinate their children flocked to a makeshift clinic for measles shots this week after an outbreak that may have sickened at least 15 people.
More than 135 people crowded into a local woodworking business Thursday where nurses used up every available dose of vaccine — and then ordered 300 doses more, said Pam Palm, a spokeswoman for the Knox County, Ohio, Health Department.
“Not getting immunizations has been the way the Amish have felt in the past, but they certainly have responded in this situation,” Palm said.
The outbreak was detected this week when four unvaccinated Amish community members showed evidence of measles infection following a March trip to the Philippines to offer humanitarian aid to typhoon victims. More than 20,000 people have caught measles in the Philippines and at least 50 have died in a severe ongoing outbreak.
Those four travelers likely infected at least 11 others aged 2 to 48, Palm said, adding that tests are still pending. Amish religious doctrine doesn’t prohibit vaccination, but many families object to immunization and rates are far lower than in the general population, according to a 2011 study.
They were part of groups convened by Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish-Mennonite organization based in Berlin, Ohio. David Leid, a project coordinator, said that the group had planned to send at least two dozen more groups to the Philippines in coming months, but that the measles outbreak may have changed that.
Volunteers are encouraged, but not required, to be vaccinated, Leid said.
Health officials have asked unvaccinated people who traveled to the Philippines to isolate themselves for 21 days, a self-quarantine to prevent any measles cases that may develop from spreading. That request would apply to any future groups who travel to and from the country while the outbreak continues, Palm said.
She acknowledged that local, state and federal health officials have no authority to prevent unvaccinated people from traveling to disease-prone areas.
“We can’t stop people from going to another country,” she said.
Palm said the sight of so many community members with high fevers and rashes may have influenced the decision to seek measles shots. Measles is highly contagious and can cause serious illness and in rare cases, death.
The U.S. is experiencing a surge of measles this year fueled in large part by unvaccinated travelers, mostly to the Philippines, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. At least 129 cases have been confirmed in 13 states, the highest number reported during this period since 1996.