Religious Belief in the Anti-Vaccination Movement: A Perspective from the United States

One question I am often asked when interviewed by European and Canadian news organizations about the anti-vaccination movement in the United States is the role of religion within the movement. I have found that many of these interviews have assumed that this movement in the United States is associated with religious conservativism, small unique religious groups (such as the Amish), or a general rejection of medicine as it goes against God’s plan. However, in the United States, the common belief is that these groups are more strongly associated with a lack of religion. Anti-vaccinators are seen in the United States as liberal, agnostic or atheist, educated professionals who believe they know better than health organizations and the government.  In reality, the beliefs of vaccination-resistant and vaccination-questioning individuals are complicated and do not adhere to any one belief system, nor do they fit any of the exoteric stereotypes about them. In my paper, I will discuss my thirteen years of fieldwork with those questioning vaccination and the complex issues and problems their belief systems present to the United States and global health.