Despite recent controversy around childhood vaccination, the latest survey from the Pew Research Center suggests that the vast majority of people in the United States see vaccines as a positive and necessary public health measure.
There has recently been a great deal of controversy surrounding childhood vaccination, with some people considering it unsafe or even unnecessary.
The phenomenon of so-called vaccine hesitancy is not restricted to the U.S., as the World Health Organization (WHO) point out. Reluctance to accept child vaccinations has been noted in Europe, India, Japan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
In the U.S., some reports have shown that vaccine hesitancy increases the risk of disease outbreaks that could have otherwise been prevented by vaccines.
For instance, following a measles epidemic in California in December 2014, the California governor signed a piece of legislation that made vaccines compulsory for children in public or private schools and day cares. Of all 50 states, there are currently only two other states in the U.S. that no longer allow nonmedical exemptions to vaccines (such as on personal or religious grounds): Mississippi and West Virginia.
Despite the controversy, the latest survey from the Pew Research Center suggests that the large majority of people in the country do, in fact, support vaccination.
The survey – led by Cary Funk, associate director of research on society and science at the Pew Research Center – also details the demographic groups that regard vaccines with suspicion.
The survey is based on nationally representative data gathered between May 10 and June 6 of 2016.
A total of 1,549 adults were interviewed as part of the survey. Participants were 18 or older, from all 50 states across the U.S. and the District of Columbia.
The survey found that a vast majority of Americans support the requirement that children enrolled in public schools be vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). In fact, 82 percent said that they were in favor of this requirement, and 73 percent recognize the importance of vaccines for MMR prevention.
Additionally, 63 percent of U.S. individuals consider the risk of side effects to be low.
However, some groups still view vaccines with suspicion. The survey sheds light on some of the demographical differences among those who reject the preventive health benefits of childhood vaccination.
“Public health benefits from vaccines hinge on very high levels of immunization in the population, so it is important to understand which groups hold reservations about the MMR vaccine,” says lead author Funk.
Overall, the research found that black people, adults younger than 30, people who have tried alternative medicine, and people who are generally less informed about science seem to be more skeptical of health professionals and scientists. These groups also tend to perceive vaccine risks as higher and the benefits as lower than the rest of the population.
White people were found to be more inclined to perceive the benefits of vaccination as high (79 percent) than black people (56 percent). More black people (44 percent) think that the risk of MMR vaccine side effects is medium or high, compared with 30 percent of white people.
Additionally, 20 percent of people who have tried alternative medicine are more concerned with the adverse health effects of the vaccine, compared with only 8 percent of those who say have never taken over-the-counter medication for a cold or flu.
There is also a generational gap regarding MMR vaccine perceptions. Seniors over the age of 65 overwhelmingly support the MMR vaccine requirement (90 percent) and think that it should be required by the school. Only 8 percent of them think that the decision should rather be left up to the parents.
By contrast, only 77 percent of adults aged between 18 and 29 believe that it should be a school-based requirement, and 21 percent of these adults think that parents should be allowed to decide whether to get their children vaccinated, even if it poses a health risk to others.
Income and science knowledge also seem to play a role in vaccine risk perception. Ninety percent of those more knowledgeable about science see the benefits as particularly high and tend to support school-based vaccine requirements.
One of the survey findings deemed “striking” by the lead author is the fact that parents of young children are more likely to be concerned about the vaccine.
Over half of parents with children aged 4 or younger see the risk of side effects as low, but 43 percent see it as medium or high. By contrast, 70 percent of parents who do not have children younger than 4 years old perceive the risk as low, and only 29 percent of them say that the risk is medium or high.
Lead author Funk comments on the research findings:
“This survey looks in-depth at people’s views about vaccines to explore which groups have more reservations about the MMR vaccine and whether or not those views are connected with people’s trust in medical science. One of the striking findings in this study is that parents of young children express more concern about the safety of the MMR vaccine. Yet, like other Americans, they hold broadly positive views about medical scientists and their research on childhood vaccines.”