Despite decades of anti-vaccine propaganda, an overwhelming majority of Americans support childhood immunization, including the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, the most demonized vaccine of all. If democracy could provide herd immunity, this would be all that matters. Unfortunately, the same survey that produced these findings also reveals enough pockets of doubters to provide fertile ground for future outbreaks of infectious diseases that should have long since been eliminated.
The Pew Research Center polled a sample of 1,549 adult Americans for their views on vaccines and medical research. On almost every question they found the majority supported it, including that 88 percent believe the benefits of the MMR vaccine outweigh the risks. However, with highly infectious diseases like measles able to spread in communities where even a few percent of the population are vaccinated, that figure may still be insufficient.
Even more disturbingly, fears about vaccines are highest among the most important group – parents of children aged four and under. In this segment, 43 percent described the risk of side-effects from MMR as medium or high, compared to 29 percent of the rest of the population. These parents also rated the benefits of MMR lower than those without young children."Public health benefits from vaccines hinge on very high levels of immunization in the population, so it's important to understand which groups hold reservations about the MMR vaccine," said lead author Cary Funk in a
"Public health benefits from vaccines hinge on very high levels of immunization in the population, so it's important to understand which groups hold reservations about the MMR vaccine," said lead author Cary Funk in a statement.
Pew also investigated whether opposition to vaccines comes mostly from ignorance of scientific consensus, or hostility. While 55 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that “almost all” medical scientists consider MMR safe, that leaves close to half unaware of this important fact. An additional 28 percent thought there was a majority, but not overwhelming, support for MMR among medical scientists. In reality, the disgraced Andrew Wakefield aside, it is almost impossible to find a scientist in any field who considers MMR significantly risky.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is the finding that trust in both MMR and medical research is lowest among people aged 18-29. Just 77 percent of the youngest age bracket think MMR should be mandated in schools for those without a medical exemption, compared to 82 percent of the population as a whole. Only 47 percent of adults under 30 think findings on childhood vaccines are influenced by the best evidence. The figure is 52 percent in the whole populations.
The study tested scientific knowledge on nine basic questions and, unsurprisingly, found those with the most general science knowledge are more supportive of MMR and have more confidence in medical scientists than the average. Support for MMR and research also rose with family income. Despite President Trump's open embrace of the myth that MMR causes autism, political affiliation made little difference to views on this topic.