As of this February 10, there have been 167 reported cases of measles in multiple Japanese prefectures, making it the biggest outbreak the country has seen in a decade. According to Japan’s health ministry, the outbreak can be partly traced to Kyusei Shinkyo, a religious cult that rejects modern medicine.
As Quartz points out, the group was founded in 1970 and believes that medicine “can cause disease” and believes all suffering is caused by “spiritual clouds” which can only be cured by “Divine Light.” People who attended a workshop by the group in the city of Tsu in late 2018 were among the first to be infected.
The group is different from the standard vaccine-deniers in the sense that it was actually willing to acknowledge its role in the outbreak. In late 2018, the group posted a statement to its website apologizing for the “disturbance” and “inconvenience” its unvaccinated members brought upon the public.
The author of the statement, presumably a leader in the group, vowed to “pray for the infected” and added that they’re “making efforts under the guidance of public health centers to prevent further spread of infection.”
That’s nice of them.
Fact: In Japan, almost all of the 49 reported measles cases in Mie Prefecture were people connected to Miroku Community Kyusei Shinkyo, a religious group that promotes alternative healing.
— Kat (@happykt) February 22, 2019
“Since this community is committed to religious life based on medicine-independent health and natural farmed foods … there were some believers who were not vaccinated, and as a result many infected individuals appeared, resulting in social unrest,” the statement continued.
The statement went on to say that going forward, members would be vaccinated “according to the guidance of the public health center.”
Amazing. Why can’t American anti-vaxxers be this conciliatory?
Religious groups that preach anti-vaccination are an additional problem added to the scores of parents and “alternative” medicine adherents who’ve been duped by fraudulent studies linking vaccines to developmental disorders. In 2013, Texas health officials zeroed-in on a megachurch run by Pastor Kenneth Copeland as the point of origin for a measles outbreak that infected 16 people.
Unfortunately, the church wasn’t as remorseful as Kyusei Shinkyo. Five years later, Copeland’s daughter and church co-pastor Terri Copeland posted a video to her Facebook page declaring that there is no such thing as the “flu season” and encouraged followers to reject the flu vaccine.
“And don’t receive it when somebody threatens you with, ‘Everybody is getting the flu,'” she said. “We’ve already had our shot, [Jesus] bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases. That’s what we stand on.”
“Jesus himself gave us the flu shot, He redeemed us from the curse of flu,” she added.
A less-than-stellar vaccination policy may have laid the groundwork for Japan’s latest outbreak. According to an op-ed in the Japan Times last year, Japanese citizens born between 1977 and 1990 have been vaccinated against measles just once, while health experts say at least two vaccinations are needed to maintain immunity.
“Unless the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry overhauls its vaccination policy, measles is likely to become an epidemic at certain intervals,” the op-ed stated. “What the ministry must immediately do is to vaccinate those people who had only one vaccination.”
While there’s no indication that anti-vaccine ideology has caught on in Japan at the level it’s caught on in the U.S., Kyusei Shinkyo is a perfect example of how you don’t need a mass movement to spark a public health emergency.
Image via Shutterstock