(updated with minor corrections)
In California at least, the schools that have the lowest vaccine uptake rates --as low as 25% -- are likely to be Waldorf schools, or "Waldorf-influenced schools". Download California 2010 ImmunizationRateTable (PDF) Why is that?
For answers, I turned to Alicia H., an English-speaking Swede who was educated in Steiner schools and has since made on-going critical studies of anthroposophy published at her blog, Zooey. She wrote:
Waldorf schools are infamous for low high rates of unvaccinated students and for occasional outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases. To some extent, Waldorf parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children have certain characteristics in common with other groups of parents who refuse vaccination (supposed risks, wanting to lead a ‘natural’ life, and so forth). However, there’s also an other element guiding the decisions of some Waldorf parents, namely anthroposophy.
In anthroposophy, disease is seen as a natural and often necessary event in a person’s life and as an opportunity for development and maturation. Illness is not merely a meaningless suffering. Basic to this understanding of disease is the anthroposophical knowledge of the human being, which includes a belief in visible and invisible aspects of man (for example: in addition to the physical body, there are three supersensible ‘bodies’) and the belief in an eternal spirit. This soul-spiritual core of man goes through repeated earth lives. Each life has something to teach, and the individual is supposed to progress to ever higher evolutionary stages. Diseases and other hardships have a role to play in this cosmic scheme of continuous development and progression of individual men as well as of mankind at large.
Childhood diseases and their symptoms, such as fever, are considered as positive events in a child’s life, enabling the child to incarnate in his or her inherited physical body. This physical body is, in some sense, ‘foreign’ to the incarnating child, and through disease, the child is assisted in making this physical shell his or her own, to adapting it to his or her individuality. In anthroposophy, childhood diseases are viewed as actually act as a kind of regulative force; they help the child develop in a balanced way, according to anthroposophical beliefs. This is why childhood diseases usually appear during childhood, this is the time when they are needed. (When these diseases appear in adults, something more serious is amiss.) Also, the fever common in childhood and accompanying most childhood diseases helps counteract premature ‘hardening’ — which is, anthroposophically speaking, a bad thing; it’s associated with Ahriman. Fever is luciferic — that is, an opposing force to anything ahrimanic. Thus, vaccination deprives the child of an opportunity for assistance in the incarnation process and poses a risk concerning premature hardening processes. This is not insignificant, from a spiritual viewpoint. The spiritual risk of vaccination is, supposedly, higher before the first seven-year cycle of the child’s life has ended. These first seven years are characterized by hardening of the organism, which culminate at the change of teeth; the key factor for natural development, anthroposophically speaking, is not that it happens but the pace at which this happens.
Another anthroposophical aspect worth noting in this context is the belief in karma. As already noted, Anthroposophy holds that the spiritual core of the human being is immortal and goes through repeated lives on earth. Before we’re born, we choose which circumstances to incarnate into — with the aim of furthering our spiritual progression. This means, we also choose our diseases because we ‘need’ them, for reasons which may be inconceivable to us during our earthly existence but which appear clearly to us during the time we spend in the spiritual realm after death and before rebirth. Consequently, we can place ourselves in a setting where we will be confronted with a disease we need to live through (or, in some cases, even die from), either because of something — for instance, a personality flaw — from a past life which needs to be rectified or as a preparation for lives to come.
The shortest version: falling ill with a vaccine-preventable infectious disease is good for all children's spiritual development.
A commenter on one of Alicia's recent posts (Measles transmission from an anthroposophical community) explained it more succinctly
In my town in switzerland, if a family had measels they would find lots of young visitors!
Why??? so that their children would catch it and be imune to it for the rest of their lifes!get real!!! and don’t forget the lessons learnt in the past to inform you for future action.
The commenter is, or was, a teacher at a UK Steiner/Waldorf school.
Never mind that measles is highly infectious and spreads to vulnerable individuals at high risk of adverse outcomes.
I wonder if Waldorf schools should issue warnings to residents in their neighborhoods, something like this:
Public Health Warning
This facility may be a point source for vaccine-preventable infectious disease
More from Alicia:
This was written based upon several recent texts in Swedish. A few references for further reading: