President Donald Trump raised questions about the safety of childhood vaccines on the campaign trail, and during the transition period he talked to Robert Kennedy Jr. about heading a commission on vaccine safety. Kennedy had edited a book that argues that a preservative used in some vaccines causes neurological disorders, including autism. A new Pew Research Center survey has found, however, that the “vaccine hesitant” views expressed by Trump and other public figures are at odds with the opinion of most Americans.
In the survey, which was conducted before the election, a majority of Americans (82%) supported requiring all healthy schoolchildren to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). Some 73% of Americans saw high preventive health benefits from the use of the MMR vaccine, and 66% believed there was a low risk of adverse effects from the vaccine. Overall, 88% believed that the benefits of these inoculations outweighed the risks.
The survey also found that Republicans and Democrats (including those who lean to either party) were about equally likely to support a school-based vaccine requirement. However, political conservatives were slightly more likely than either moderates or liberals to say that parents should be able to decide not to have their children vaccinated, although majorities of all ideology groups supported requiring the MMR vaccine for all children in public schools because of the potential health risk to others.
African-Americans (56%) and Hispanics (61%) were less inclined than whites (79%) to see the preventive health benefits of the MMR vaccine as “high.” African-Americans also tended to see the risk of adverse effects from the MMR vaccine as at least “medium” compared with whites (44% vs. 30%, respectively).
Public views of medical scientists and their research related to childhood vaccines were broadly positive regardless of parent status, race, ethnicity, and experience using alternative medicine. Seventy-three percent of U.S. adults believed that medical scientists should have a major role in policy decisions related to childhood vaccines. In addition, 55% said they trust information from medical scientists “a lot” to give a full and accurate picture of the health effects of vaccines.
At the same time, people were less trusting of other groups about this issue. For example, only 13% trusted information from pharmaceutical industry leaders about the health effects of the MMR vaccine “a lot.” People with high science knowledge were especially positive in their views of medical scientists and research on childhood vaccines. Younger adults (18 to 29 years of age) were slightly more skeptical than older age groups about medical scientists and their work on childhood vaccines.
The findings were from a survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,549 adults (18 years of age and older) from May 10 to June 6, 2016.
Source: Pew Research Center; February 2, 2017.