The Verdict is In: The Amish Approach to Covid was Superior

So why don’t our public health officials seem interested?

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It could be one of the most important lessons learned for the next pandemic. And it should make international headlines.

But it seems like those who made the mistakes during Covid aren’t very interested.

The Amish population that largely rejected public health recommendations fared no worse in terms of health impact than the rest of the country that masked, isolated, and vaccinated. That’s according to available data and a federally-funded study that attempted to evaluate the Amish approach.

These findings imply the US could have avoided experimental vaccines that have serious side effects; and circumvented costly shutdowns that devastated the economy, travel, businesses, mental health, and education at the expense of trillions of US tax dollars.

Read on for details.

The Amish Covid Control Group

The Amish are a Christian group that emphasizes the virtuous over the superficial. They don’t usually drive, and don’t routinely use electricity or have TVs. And during the Covid-19 outbreak, they became subjects in a massive social and medical experiment.

After a brief shutdown in the beginning, the Amish chose a different path that led to Covid tearing through the community at warp speed. It began with an important religious holiday in May of 2020.

“When they take communion, they dump their wine into a cup, and they take turns to drink out of that cup,” Calvin Lapp explained to me. He’s an Amish Mennonite living in the largest Amish community in the US centered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“So, you go the whole way down the line, and everybody drinks out of that cup. If one person has coronavirus, the rest of the church is going to get coronavirus. The first time they went back to church, everybody got coronavirus.”

Lapp says the Amish weren’t denying Covid. They were facing it head-on. “It’s a worse thing to quit working than dying. Working is more important than dying,” he says. “But to shut down and say that we can’t go to church, we can’t get together with family, we can’t see our old people in the hospital, we got to quit working? It’s going completely against everything that we believe. You’re changing our culture completely to try to act like they wanted us to act the last year, and we’re not going to do it.”

That also meant avoiding hospitals. The Amish simply refused to go to the hospital, even when they were very sick, because that would mean they couldn’t see visitors. And, to them, they’d rather be very sick at home with people around them than be isolated in a hospital.

The Amish anecdotes were powerful, but solid proof wasn’t easy to find because the Amish didn’t typically take Covid tests. Their thinking, says one observer, was, “I’m sick. I know I’m sick. I don’t have to have someone else telling me I’m sick.”

“We didn’t want the [Covid positive test] numbers to go up, because then they would shut things more. What’s the advantage of getting a test?” explains Lapp. They also didn’t mask. Or vaccinate. “No, we’re not getting vaccines,” said Lapp at the time. “Of course not. We all got the Covid, so why would you get a vaccine?”

Without hard data to go by, I dug in to investigate the results of the Amish approach to Covid in terms of deaths. One thing became clear: whether looking at anecdotes or coroner numbers, there was no evidence of any more deaths among the Amish than in places that shut down tightly. Some claim there were fewer. And instead of obliterating their economy the way most of the world did with mandatory shutdowns and pressure to isolate, Lapp says the Amish stayed completely open, and made more money as a community than ever before!

The Amish provided a sort of ready made control group. In a normal scientific environment, the full weight of the research community would put its efforts into learning more and launching studies with verifiable data. But that’s not what happened. Quite the opposite.

There appeared to be a bias on the part of some outside the Amish community to throw cold water on their strategy.

A history professor who studies the Amish declared in an email that the Amish approach to Covid had failed because, he said, “Amish excess deaths nationally shot up . . . from September to November of 2021 . . . matching the national pattern in deaths.”

He seemed to have no realization that he was making the opposite point than what he intended. If Amish death rates truly “matched the national pattern” while the Amish avoided shutdowns, masking, isolation, experimental vaccines, and all the expense—then wasn’t the Amish approach superior?

Furthermore, if Amish deaths truly “shot up” during that short time period, equalling the national pattern—doesn’t that imply that their deaths had been lower than the rest of the nation for a critical time prior to that? And lastly, it’s unclear what data the professor was using to make his claim about the number of Amish Covid deaths since nobody was able to track them with any precision.

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A Questionable Study

As part of what I see as an effort to try to discredit the superior Amish approach, there was a taxpayer-funded study published in the Journal of Religion and Health on June 11, 2021. It was titled: “Closed but Not Protected: Excess Deaths Among the Amish and Mennonites During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The title alone seems to wrongly imply there were more deaths among the noncompliant Amish than in the rest of the US.

In a convolutedly worded conclusion the authors wrote, “The excess death rate for Amish/Mennonites spiked with a 125% increase in November 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on this closed religious community highlights the need to consider religion to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

It seems to me that they clearly intended to leave the impression that the Amish and Mennonite suffered a far worse fate for having rejected CDC recommendations. But that’s untrue. And it didn’t take a lot of digging to find serious flaws in the study.

I found some of the processes researchers followed to reach their conclusions unclear. When I contacted the study’s lead author, Rachel Stein, she refused to answer some important questions.

The first obvious problem I saw is that the researchers failed to study the very population at issue—the Amish. Instead, they studied a confusing conglomeration of Amish and Mennonite. It matters because Mennonites are more likely than Amish to live lives closer to those of ordinary Americans and follow public health recommendations. How did this problem escape the study reviewers?

For example, almost all the residents living at two Mennonite Home Communities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, got vaccinated for Covid. According to the facilities’ websites: “Numerous vaccine clinics have been held at [Mennonite Home] and [Woodcrest Villa], resulting in almost all residents being vaccinated against COVID-19 infection.” These Mennonite residents also wore masks, isolated, and followed CDC protocols, including social distancing. So, in “Closed but Not Protected,” the scientists may as well have been analyzing the regular CDC-compliant population, not the uniquely Amish approach. Their conclusions didn’t necessarily reveal anything about the Amish approach.

A second issue with “Closed but Not Protected” can be found in the geographical choices the researchers made. Though their conclusions made sweeping generalizations about the Amish approach, they had in fact omitted the most populous Amish community in America: Pennsylvania. Instead, they focused their attention exclusively on “Ohio, with the second and fourth largest Amish settlements in the USA.”

When I asked study author Stein at West Virginia University why she excluded Pennsylvania, she provided a surprising answer. She indicated she and her colleagues chose Ohio because it had a disproportionately high number of Amish and Mennonite obituaries compared to Pennsylvania and other states. According to Stein, Ohio is “home to approximately 23% of the US Amish population, but contributing 56% of the total obituaries published” and “Pennsylvania was not represented to the same degree as Ohio in the data.”

Incredibly, this seems to mean that when they saw evidence of a more positive outcome in Pennsylvania—fewer obituaries—they excluded that data from their study.

Why did the researchers ignore the obvious possibility: that the Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonite had fewer published obituaries compared to Ohio because their death rate was lower? In effect, the decision to omit Pennsylvania would seem to artificially elevate the apparent death rate among Amish and Mennonite people and present the worst case outcome for Closed Religious Communities (CRCs).

I think the most significant flaw with the study is that it buries an earthshattering finding—one that’s contrary to establishment science narratives: Even using the worst case outcome that likely exaggerated the toll that Covid took on the Amish, the researchers found no evidence the Amish suffered any worse than the rest of America. At the same time, the Amish managed to avoid shutdowns, isolation, masking, testing, hospitalization, and vaccination.

The Amish approach appears to be far superior.

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The Journal’s Response

It’s been almost one year since I first began raising questions about the study with the lead author and then with the publisher, Springer Nature.

In September of last year, a spokesman for Springer Nature told me, “We take such concerns seriously and, as mentioned before, the Springer Nature Research Integrity Team are now looking into the matter thoroughly and following an established process. This investigation can take some time, but we would be happy to update you with further developments when possible.”

When asking for an update seven months later, a Springer Nature spokesman replied on April 3, 2024:

“I can confirm that we are continuing to look into the concerns raised carefully, following an established process and in line with COPE guidelines. I’m afraid we cannot share any further information while the investigation is ongoing, but we would be happy to provide an update once it is complete. Please note that we cannot predict when this will be…as a general principle, while we endeavour to proceed with investigations as swiftly and efficiently as possible, there are a variety of reasons why our investigations can sometimes take longer to complete. When looking into issues we may need to consult external experts, liaise with author institutions or COPE, or wait for authors to confer with their colleagues, prepare responses and, where appropriate, provide additional materials.”

Can Data From Federally-Funded Study Be Kept Hidden?

In response to my request to see study supporting materials, data, and communications, which the public owns since it was a taxpayer-funded study (and the tenets of solid science require transparency so that any findings can be replicated), West Virginia University stalled and then eventually provided only heavily-redacted materials that revealed very little except that several other observers had also questioned the study.

According to Springer Nature, “Journal of Religion and Health has a research data policy which encourages authors to publish data in a public repository where possible, but does not require that they do so.”

The National Science Foundation, which used US taxpayer money to fund the questioned study, provided no meaningful information when asked.

Below, you can read my letter to the Journal of Religion and Health below the Covid links that follow.


June 17, 2023

Journal of Religion and Health

Dear Editors:

Thank you for the opportunity to raise queries regarding “Closed but Not Protected: Excess Deaths Among the Amish and Mennonites During the COVID-19 Pandemic” published June 11, 2021 by authors Rachel E. Stein, Katie E. Corcoran, Corey J. Colyer, Annette M. Mackay & Sara K. Guthrie.  

As you know, author Rachel Stein has declined to answer some important questions arising from this publication, which itself creates a barrier to a thorough scientific understanding of the research. Here are the issues that I hope can be addressed:

The study’s title and conclusions may be misleading in that they seem clearly intended to imply there was a unique spike in deaths among religious communities that shunned Covid-19 vaccinations, masking, isolation, and other CDC-recommended practices. For example, one passage from the publication states: “The large number of excess deaths among the Amish and Mennonite community is concerning.” However, details of the study do not support this implication. The study finds that the excess death rate in the two Closed Religious Communities that were examined in one state mirrored that of the general population. One passage from the publication states, “Our results indicate the Amish/Mennonite excess death rates are similar to the national trends in the USA.”

The study blended data from two very different populations to form a conclusion that may not apply to them individually. When I asked author Stein why the study combined Amish and Mennonite deaths, she replied that “We did not analyze Amish and Mennonite deaths separately. The data didn’t allow for subgroup analysis.” This is a critical and potentially fatal flaw with the study. Amish and Mennonite are distinct religious communities with significantly different practices. Author Stein, who lists herself as an expert in “Old Order Amish,” would likely understand this. Specifically, Mennonites are more likely than Amish to live lives closer to those of ordinary Americans and follow recommended public health practices. By way of example, almost all the residents living at two Mennonite Home Communities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania followed CDC protocols including wearing masks, isolating, social distancing, and getting vaccinated for Covid-19. According to managers of the Mennonite facilities: “Numerous vaccine clinics have been held at [Mennonite Home] and [Woodcrest Villa] resulting in almost all residents being vaccinated against COVID-19 infection.” Likewise, Ohio Mennonite homes promoted Covid vaccinations, are still promoting Covid-19 vaccine boosters for residents, and were masking as recently as January of this year. Therefore, the study scientists incorrectly included a population, undisclosed or unknown in size, that followed CDC practices (Mennonite) to form a conclusion about a population that rejected CDC practices (Amish).

The study failed to include and report on the largest population of Amish in the US. The decision to analyze only the state of Ohio is puzzling since Ohio does not have the largest Amish population in the US: Pennsylvania does—by a significant margin. Larger datasets may yield more accurate results. At the very least, the reasons behind the choice to skip over the largest Amish population should have been clearly addressed in the study.

The focus on Ohio introduces a potential bias into the findings. When I asked author Stein why Pennsylvania was excluded from the study, she indicated she and her colleagues chose Ohio because there was a disproportionately high number of Amish and Mennonite obituaries in Ohio compared to other states, including Pennsylvania. In effect, this could inadvertently result in presenting the worst case scenario for Closed Religious Communities (CRCs). According to Stein, Ohio is “home to approximately 23% of the US Amish population, but contributing 56% of the total obituaries published in the Budget” and “Pennsylvania was not represented to the same degree as Ohio in the data.” The researchers needed to explain whether and how they excluded the possibility that the Pennsylvania death rate among CRCs was significantly lower than that in Ohio. If the authors could not reasonably estimate what proportion of actual deaths in each state was published in the Budget (the publication they used as their source for obituaries) then it seems they did not have the information available to be able to make meaningful death rate comparisons.

The primary graph in the study, Figure 1, did not compare like groups. While it is not clearly labelled, Figure 1, if I understand correctly, apparently compares a national average of deaths over time… to Ohio State Amish and Mennonite deaths in 2020. A more logical and instructive comparison would have been to measure Ohio’s deaths over time to Ohio Amish and Mennonite deaths in 2020 or the national average over time to the to the national Amish and Mennonite figure in 2020.

If the study is accurate as is, it buries important scientific findings. While the study leaves the impression there is special concern about Covid spreading worse or being more lethal in the Mennonite and Amish communities due to their supposed failure to follow public health guidelines, the study notes that the Mennonite/Amish death rate actually mirrored the general US death rate. If true, then stated another way, the Amish-Mennonite communities had no worse outcome for having avoided devastating economic and school shutdowns, masking, isolation, vaccination, and all of the spending on these measures. This is a finding of significant importance; yet the researchers seem not to notice. A second important finding that the researchers seemed to overlook was that if their study is accurate, it means the widely-accepted principle of natural immunity (as being more effective than Covid-19 vaccination) was uniquely turned on its head with the CRC community. This would be an important conclusion, indeed.

The study content does not match the description submitted for the grant. The publicly-published grant proposal does not indicate the study will focus narrowly on only Ohio (to the exclusion of the largest Amish population). The study does not appear to examine “misinformation and specific practices” within CRCs, as promised in the proposal. It also doesn’t seem to address “social distancing and isolation content” or “COVID-19-related official instructions..gathered and tracked over time.” Additionally, “county health district data” over time was not published. When inquired as to whether there was a revision of the envisioned project, Stein told me that those “other aspects of the project” address these things. However, there seems to be nothing in the public grant description that describes this study on excess death rates (absent a misinformation or specific practices context).

In conclusion, there seem to be several outstanding questions. What would the Ohio 2020 CRC death trend look like compared to Ohio-only deaths 2015-2019 (rather than to a national 2015-2019 average)? To what degree does inclusion of the Mennonite population skew the results? What would the results look like if only the Amish were studied? What would the comparison look like if Pennsylvania and other states were included in the analylsis? What proportion of the Ohio Mennonite population followed CDC-recommended practices (if unknowable— then it seems to me the study has little ability to inform the question at hand). And, most important of all, why were the most significant takeaways of international interest seemingly ignored including that the researchers found no evidence that the Amish suffered more harm for not having shut down schools, businesses and church; for not isolating, masking or social distancing; for not Covid testing and vaccinating; and for not having spent a great deal of public funds on various measures.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sharyl Attkisson

Investigative Journalist

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2 thoughts on “The Verdict is In: The Amish Approach to Covid was Superior”

  1. I live by a very simple rule: if the government, or any of its minions tell me to do something, I do the opposite.

  2. Excellent information and analysis.
    It’s also frightening that a reporter seems to understand basic scientific principles so much more than people holding themselves up as having conducted a scientific study.
    Lots of food for thought here — more than just about COVID, supposedly-scientific studies, or the Amish.

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