There is no evidence that vaccinating missionaries protects them or those around them from disease with any degree of certainty and there is plenty of evidence that vaccinations could be harming the health of missionaries. With the current vaccine policy in place, illness on the mission is still quite commonplace and many missionaries are already being sent home for health reasons. It should be noted that parents who have chosen not to immunize their children, have observed that their children are actually very healthy, even healthier than their vaccinated peers. They are rarely sick and when they do get sick, they recover quickly. (31)
In fact, individuals living in most developed countries where measles is endemic or where coverage for vaccines like MMR is low have longer life expectancies than Americans. Despite the fact that measles is now endemic in the United Kingdom, the UK ranks 28th in world for life expectancy according to the CIA’s World Factbook, compared to America’s rank of 49. Measles is endemic in Switzerland, yet Switzerland ranks 15th in the world for life expectancy. Outbreaks of measles are ongoing in Israel, which ranks 16th for life expectancy. Germany, France, and Italy have been cited as examples of low vaccine coverage, with high rates of measles, yet Germany ranks 36th, France 12th, and Italy 23rd for life expectancy.
For foreign travel, the yellow fever vaccine is the only required vaccine for entry, and is required only in specific countries, though medical exemptions are available (Neustaedter 265, 271). As the Church grows and internationally, calling more missionaries to serve in their native countries will become more practical and would lessen the need and concern for travel vaccines, while conferring the additional benefit of not requiring language training. Native citizens will likely be better able to reach out to the people of their country to preach because they better understand the customs and culture.
Some recommendations that you may wish to consider as alternatives to vaccinations:
- Allow prospective missionaries undergo a blood titers test and submit results for proof of immunity for certain diseases.
- Encourage hand washing. Put signs up in front of the bathrooms to remind missionaries and staff. A study in the late 1990’s showed that directing Navy recruits to wash their hands five times a day helped reduce respiratory disease cases by 45%, when there is widespread compliance. This could be a good strategy with missionaries. (32)
- If hand sanitizer stations are frequently available, decrease the number. This may seem counter-intuitive, but consider that hand sanitizers are highly effective in a sterile lab environment, but kill only 46%-60% of microbes in an every day situation. An abundance of hand sanitizer often encourages complacency, and people use it as a substitute for hand washing. I have worked in food services, and in my food handlers permit classes, this was brought up often. Commercial kitchens are often cited for having too many hand sanitizers for this very reason. (33)
- Get rid of the soda and soft drinks in the MTC cafeteria. Unless there have been some serious changes since I worked there in 2006, the MTC cafeteria serves far more sugar than it should. Between the desserts, lots of sugary cereal offerings, and soda and soft drinks for two or three meals every day, missionaries eat much more sugar than is healthy. Soda is not part of a healthy diet and there is no need to serve it multiple times a day, every day. Soda on a daily basis contributes to obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and may also hamper the immune system. Instead, get several filtered water dispensers and put them in the cafeteria. Water is the best health drink of all. Lemon slices could be offered for a little extra flavor.Two or three 100% juices could be offered as another option for those who refuse water.
- Offer healthier food choices in the cafeteria. A close reading of Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants shows that eating a plant foods based diet is recommended. Leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, grains, then meat are mentioned, in that order. Meat is to be eaten sparingly. We are promised that if we eat this way, the “destroying angel” (disease) will pass over us. This promise has been backed up by research such as The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell’s research showed that people who ate a plant based rather than animal protein based diet had far lower rates of disease. When I was working at the MTC cafeteria, meat based entrees, sugary cereals, potato chips and french fries were offered on a regular or even daily basis. The MTC cafeteria must serve a wide range of tastes and eating habits, but offering fewer unhealthy options and more healthy options will make for healthier missionaries. Offer only two or three sugary cereal options for breakfast and make bananas, apples, raisins and other fruits abundantly available to sweeten whole grain cereals like oatmeal. Curtail the number of meat based dishes. Vegetarian burritos, sandwiches, whole wheat pasta dishes, stir-fry, and pizza with less cheese, more veggies, and no meat could all be incorporated into the menus. Baked corn or whole wheat tortilla chips with fresh made salsa would probably be quite popular. Another idea is to serve fruit smoothies at every meal. This requires only a blender, some water, fruit and a worker from the line to run the station. Leafy greens like spinach, chard and romaine lettuce can be added to fruit smoothies to increase the nutritional value while still tasting sweet. The MTC may wish to look into the possibility of obtaining fresh, high quality produce from one or more of the local farms in the area which supply local restaurants and community supported agriculture programs.
- Support the judicious use of herbs and homeopathic medicine for those missionaries who wish to use them. Homeopathy and herbal medicine have been labelled quackery by the American mainstream medical establishment, but it should be noted that the homeopaths have been confidently treating diseases such as meningitis, polio, measles, mumps, pertussis, diphtheria, yellow fever, and smallpox for over 200 years. Only a few studies have been done on homeopathic prophylaxis, but the results have been promising. A 1987 study from Europe showed that less than 10% of children given Pertussin 30 c contracted whooping cough during an outbreak of the disease. A 1975 study from Brazil published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy showed that of 18,640 children given a homeopathic preventative during a meningitis epidemic, only 4 contracted the disease. An uncontrolled study conducted during the 1950’s and published in the 1961 Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy of 50,000 children who received Lathyrus, a homeopathic treatment for polio, showed that only one child contracted polio and that case was non-paralytic. In a study of a 1902 smallpox outbreak in Iowa, 2,806 people were given a homeopathic preventative for the disease, 547 were exposed to the disease, and 14 actually contracted it. This was published in the North American Journal of Homeopathy, volume 58; a summary can be seen on page 781. (Neustaedter 97-99) Note that D&C 42:43 advocates the use of herbs for healing the sick. The Nephites used plants and roots to treat diseases and among them deaths from disease were rare because of their use these herbs (Alma 46:40).
- Issue a cookbook with simple, healthy recipes for missionaries to take into the field. Cooking is an essential skill for health and independence.
- Consider other options besides vaccines for humanitarian service. While the intent behind humanitarian vaccination programs is admirable, much medical literature shows that vaccines are often less effective in less developed regions where malnutrition and bad sanitation are problems. Programs that teach people how to grow their own nutritious food could be a good alternative as also expanding programs that focus on improving sanitation and access to clean water.
It is my understanding that little, if any of the above information is made widely available in medical or nursing schools and public health programs. If medical authorities are wrong about vaccination, it certainly isn’t the first time that mainstream medicine has made an error of judgement. In the past, bleeding patients was considered scientific, radiation baths were thought to cure mental illness, and prenatal x-rays were considered a good idea.
Regardless of the decisions made by men, I believe that Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has the fullness of God’s restored gospel. I believe the members of the Quorum of the Twelve to be prophets, seers, and revelators. I believe we have loving Heavenly Father who allows us to make our decisions and find for ourselves the truth of all things. However, it will always be my hope and prayer that vaccinations will become a matter of choice for those wishing to serve missions, because I believe it would be beneficial to the Church’s efforts to spread the gospel.