Currently Freiburg in Germany is suffering soaring rates of measles, with tragic results, due to a largely middle class boycott of MMR vaccine. In contrast, Northern Irish doctors rarely see cases, although this year there has been a sudden worrying drop in MMR uptake. I’ve snipped most of the article to concentrate on the German perspective. The article suggests a key difference between the UK MMR scare and the problems in Germany. In the UK the scare is due to safety fears and widespread within the population. In Germany vaccination levels are higher, but pockets of middle class refuseniks are breaking herd immunity in specific areas. This is interesting, but I suspect that it is similar middle class concerns that maintain the MMR “controversy” in the UK media. The safety concern, even if a real concern originally, has become nothing more than an article of faith and an easy way into the media. Even good news about MMR’s safety gives them an opportunity to get their anti-vaccine message across.
Germany suffered more outbreaks of measles than any other European country in 2002, the latest year for which comparative figures are available. There were 4,665 cases compared with 327 in the UK, a country with only a slightly smaller population.
Ironically, vaccination coverage in Germany is good, at more than 90%, compared with 80% in the UK. Instead, the reason for the outbreaks is the pockets of low-vaccination coverage that allow the once-rare condition to get a hold.
In the winter of 2001, an outbreak in the tiny area of Coburg to the north, which started in an anthroposophical school opposed to vaccination, infected 1,100 people, of whom 398 developed complications such as pneumonia and 21 were hospitalised.
In Freiburg, a pretty university town, where a vaccination boycott is now firmly entrenched, outbreaks on a smaller scale occur regularly.
Some parents refuse all vaccinations but most resist only those against what they consider mild illnesses. Local doctors estimate that in some areas coverage against measles, mumps and rubella has slipped below 60%.
But there are important differences between the vaccination boycott in Freiburg and the anti-MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) campaign by parents in Britain. Here, the resistance to vaccination is driven by fear of a reaction to the vaccine that could trigger autism. In Freiburg, the vaccine refuseniks are drawn from the Green-voting, middle class intelligentsia who say they are making a positive choice for a natural lifestyle in which their children will be exposed to common illnesses that help strengthen their immune systems.
Gisela Schaifer, 38, had her son, Fabian, covered against the major diseases including diphtheria, tetanus and polio but not against measles, mumps and rubella.
“They pose a small risk, and the risk of the vaccine may be greater,” she says. “It is crazy babies get six vaccines together. You would not get six diseases at the same time in nature.” She is a qualified nurse, but her medical training has not persuaded her of the necessity of vaccination. “There is too much medicine. It is all about the profits of the pharmaceutical companies. That is why there is a trend to natural medicine in Germany.”
Some fear that this back-to-nature, anti-science movement could spread, increasing the risk of public health disasters elsewhere in Europe.
At the St Christopherus kindergarten in the Wiehre district, which advertises its ecological credentials with grass on the roof, Brigit-ta Litzkow, the head teacher, estimates about half of the 72 children have been vaccinated against measles, and fewer against mumps and rubella.
Normally it is given as a combination vaccine [MMR], but if they find a doctor willing they can get single vaccines. Litzkow says: “Some doctors don’t want to give vaccinations at all. Their advice is counter to the traditional view. There is an anthroposophical movement here.”
St Christopherus displays a notice when there is an illness in the kindergarten, which is required in Germany, to warn parents to keep their children away, or to bring them in if they want them to have the disease. Some parents organise measles parties to spread the disease deliberately.
Wolfgang Peuckert, a local community paediatrician, is worried about the attitude of doctors. Some, he said, seemed to tell parents what they wanted to hear to keep their custom. The consequence is outbreaks of measles every two to three years. “Parents say it is good for the child’s development,” he says. “It is not rational. Parents don’t understand that these illnesses have complications.”
Rheinhard Berner, a consultant paediatrician at the University Children’s hospital, remembers Claudia with her severe encephalitis, and responds to the views of parents with weary resignation. “It is crazy that people should believe their children have to suffer because these illnesses belong to their normal development. We did not expect Claudia to survive. One in 1,000 cases of measles will develop encephalitis. It is true that it is rare, but we think it is right to protect children.”
The man responsible for the anthroposophical movement is Rudolf Steiner:
“Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe… Anthroposophists are those who experience, as an essential need of life, certain questions on the nature of the human being and the universe, just as one experiences hunger and thirst.”
Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, 1904.
As you might expect, anthroposophical medicine fits into the modern crystal-healing homeopathy Mumbo-Jumbo mindset of the post-modern Europe very well.
Rudolf Steiner, PhD, founded anthroposophical medicine in the early 20th century. Anthroposophical medicine integrates the physical and spiritual components of being. It realizes that more than the physical component of life contributes to the state of health or disease. Anthroposophical medicine requires physicians to quest knowledge with the realization that what is accessible to the senses cannot fully describe a patient. The physician must be aware of the additional spirit and psyche of a person. The physician must constantly be aware of the constraints of the senses, as even during examination the physician is relying upon sense. A physical sign of disease, believed to be a manifestation of the disconnection between a life process and the body, is seen with the eyes; a symptom of disease, which provides closer access to the spirit due to the subjective nature of description, is heard with the ears. Effective physicians must be aware of their own constraints as well as their patients’ constraints as humans and must strive for their own inner development to be more able to fully assist and advise patients.
In 1921 Steiner helped some pharmacists and doctors found Weleda, a large company in Germany who supply natural and anthroposophical products.
In 1993, I had the opportunity to take a tour of their factory. They had superb production facilities, and the smell, it has to admitted, was lovely. At the end we were subjected to a presentation on the “science” of anthroposophical products. At one point I was convinced that someone had slipped a spoof tape into the video machine, so implausible was the rational for the differing treatments.
The Weleda website has an explanation of anthroposophical medicine. One of Steiner’s discoveries was that some plants are out of proportion to the “ideal” plant, and that this disproportion dictates their usefulness in ailments. Here’s an example:
Bryonia is unusual in that its leaves and flowers are small and insignificant. Instead all its energy goes into development of the root, which can develop to a huge size weighing up to 10kg. This would suggest that Bryonia has a medicinal action as it is distorted from the “ideal plant”. As the distortion is in the root, the action of Bryonia is centred on our Sense-Nervous system. Bryonia root is in fact used for streaming colds and catarrh, where the head feels as if it is bursting.
One can only wonder what powers the humble carrot has.