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OLEAN – Cattaraugus County health officials would like to encourage the Amish community to have their members vaccinated.

Officials say avoiding vaccines endangers the general public.

Measles, which can easily be avoided with vaccinations, is a particular concern, Dr. Kevin Watkins, the county’s public health director, told members of the county Board of Health Wednesday. Officials fear the disease can be spread by Amish families visiting in Ohio.

“We have a large population of Amish in Cattaraugus County,” he said. “What we are seeing is that they visit the communities in Ohio. We do not want to see them bring back measles if they are not vaccinated.”

Watkins said he would like to establish a discussion with the bishops within the Amish communities in the area to build a rapport and show them the cause and concern associated with measles. Another part of the equation would be to get the public health departments of Chautauqua and Allegany counties on board with the same message.

One of the problems that has been encountered in helping the Amish community with medical care has been their refusal of health insurance to help deal with problems, according to Georgina Paul, a family nurse practitioner.

“They don’t believe in insurance, as you cannot insure yourself against God’s will,” she said. “That’s how they look at the medical side of this. If God is going to allow a child to have measles, it is God’s will and we will not prevent it. That is what we have been told in the past.”

For serious medical conditions, such as a diagnosis of cancer within the community, Paul said community members are more likely to go to Mexico for treatment instead of receiving treatment in the United States.

“By the time they come to my office, it is too late,” said Dr. Zahid Chohan, a member of the Board of Health.

In the case of measles, Watkins said, the ruling on vaccinations would have to come through the bishops.