More Americans Embracing Vaccines: HealthDay/Harris Poll

Copy-spaced image of a doctor vaccinating his little patient in clinic on the foreground

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

NEW YORK , N.Y. – March 12, 2015 – In the wake of the measles outbreak that has generated headlines for months, more Americans now say they have positive feelings toward childhood vaccinations, according to a new HealthDay/Harris Poll.

Of more than 2,000 adults surveyed, 87 percent said they thought that the vaccines routinely given to young children are safe. That’s up from 77 percent from a similar poll last July.

Among the new poll’s other findings:

  • 82 percent of respondents say childhood vaccinations should be mandatory for all children, up from 77 percent in the July poll.
  • 79 percent say there’s at least a moderate level of risk that an unvaccinated child could contract a disease that vaccinations are designed to protect against. That’s an increase of 5 percentage points since the July poll.
  • 69 percent say a child contracting a vaccine-preventable disease such as measles would present at least a moderate danger to other children, up from 64 percent in July.

The new poll also revealed that 77 percent of adults believe that parents who don’t want their children vaccinated should be required to get a doctor’s certificate showing why they chose not to have them vaccinated. And 72 percent think that if a child is not vaccinated, he or she should not be allowed to attend school.

There’s also been a small but measurable shift in the understanding of what’s called herd immunity. Less than a year ago, roughly three in 10 Americans (29 percent) agreed that since most children get vaccinated, it’s alright if some parents choose not to vaccinate their children. Today, roughly two in 10 (21 percent) agree with that sentiment, the poll found.

Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, sees the shift as encouraging. And while the reasons for it aren’t certain, it’s safe to assume that the measles outbreak is the driving force, he said.

I think the measles outbreak is causing some people to re-examine their ‘facts’ about childhood vaccinations, Glatt said. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a scare.

However, the poll also found that many younger adults, and parents of young children, continue to believe the debunked claim that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism.

Perhaps the most alarming numbers are the 32 percent of parents with children under 6 who think there is at least a moderate chance that vaccinations may cause autism — and the 24 percent who believe there is scientific research to show this, said Humphrey Taylor, chairman emeritus of the Harris Poll.

Glatt agreed that those numbers are concerning, though not surprising. Parents of young children are understandably more likely to go looking for information on vaccinations. But that increases the chances of coming across misinformation, he said.

The ongoing measles outbreak got its start at two Disney theme parks in southern California in December. As of March 6, 173 people in 17 states and the District of Columbia had been infected, and most of those people had never been vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States back in 2000. But outbreaks have occurred since, with the largest so far arising last year — when 644 people in 27 states fell ill, according to the CDC.

The problem, the agency says, is that travelers can bring measles to the United States, and the virus spreads if people aren’t vaccinated.

In recent years, some American parents have decided to either skip the MMR and other childhood vaccines, or ask their doctors to delay certain shots — often due to fears over vaccine safety. Those worries date back to 1998, when a small study claimed to show a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The study has since been widely discredited, and the British doctor who led it lost his medical license.

That ‘link’ was based on falsified data, Glatt said. But the idea that the MMR causes autism is still out there.

In the new poll, the millennial generation (those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) was most likely to believe the MMR-autism claim: 22 percent. That compares to 18 percent of Gen Xers (those born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s); 12 percent of baby boomers; and 8 percent of Americans older than 70. Glatt said it’s not surprising that younger Americans have more negative views of vaccines compared to older Americans — partly because they’ve never seen potentially fatal diseases like measles or polio.

One poll finding was somewhat surprising, though, according to Glatt. There’s a common perception that vaccine detractors in the United States are largely from upper-income brackets.

But the poll found that people with the highest-income households — earning $100,000 or more a year — were less likely to believe in the MMR-autism link — only 12 percent did, versus 22 percent of people from households earning less than $50,000.

I think that tells us there is no standard ‘type’ of parent who is a vaccine doubter, Glatt said. The issue is more widespread than that.

The HealthDay/Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between February 25-27, 2015 among 2,032 U.S. adults 18 and older. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted, where necessary, to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

More information

The CDC has more on childhood vaccinations.

SOURCES: Humphrey Taylor, chairman emeritus, The Harris Poll; Aaron Glatt, M.D., spokesman, Infectious Diseases Society of America, infectious disease specialist, Mercy Medical Center, Rockville Centre, N.Y.; HealthDay/Harris Poll, Feb. 25-27, 2015

Last Updated: Mar. 12, 2015

 

 

TABLE 1a

PERCEIVED SAFETY OF CHILDHOOD VACCINES

By Generation & Gender

Now we’d like you to think about vaccines commonly administered to children (e.g., mumps, measles, whooping cough). In general, how safe do you believe vaccines given to children in the United States are?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Very safe/Safe (NET)

77

87

84

82

90

92

87

87

Very safe

43

54

49

45

60

68

56

53

Safe

34

32

35

37

30

23

31

34

A little bit safe

14

6

8

8

5

2

6

6

Not at all safe

5

2

3

3

2

2

2

3

Don’t know

4

5

5

6

3

5

5

4

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 1b

PERCEIVED SAFETY OF CHILDHOOD VACCINES

By Political Party & Parental Status

Now we’d like you to think about vaccines commonly administered to children (e.g., mumps, measles, whooping cough). In general, how safe do you believe vaccines given to children in the United States are?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Political Party

Parents w/ Children in HH

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Yes Kids <18

Yes Kids <10

Yes Kids <6

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Very safe/Safe (NET)

77

87

89

88

87

87

87

88

87

Very safe

43

54

58

58

52

44

45

46

57

Safe

34

32

32

31

35

43

42

43

29

A little bit safe

14

6

5

6

7

7

6

5

6

Not at all safe

5

2

3

1

3

3

3

1

2

Don’t know

4

5

4

4

3

4

4

5

5

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 2a

DANGER PERCEPTIONS

Summary Grid

Still thinking about vaccines commonly administered to children, what do you believe to be the degree of danger for each of the following?

Base: All adults

A GREAT DEAL OF/A MODERATE DANGER (NET)

A great deal of danger

A moderate danger

NO/NOT MUCH OF A DANGER (NET)

Not much of a danger

No danger at all

Don’t know

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The likelihood that an unvaccinated child will contract a disease that vaccinations are designed to protect against

79

45

34

12

9

3

10

The dangers to other children if a child in their proximity contracts a disease that vaccinations are designed to prevent

69

42

27

19

15

4

12

The danger that a vaccinated child is more likely to be autistic than an unvaccinated child

16

6

10

65

26

39

19

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 2b

DANGER PERCEPTIONS

Summary of A Great Deal of Danger/A Moderate Danger NET b y Generation & Gender

Still thinking about vaccines commonly administered to children, what do you believe to be the degree of danger for each of the following?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The likelihood that an unvaccinated child will contract a disease that vaccinations are designed to protect against

74

79

72

77

83

86

76

81

The dangers to other children if a child in their proximity contracts a disease that vaccinations are designed to prevent

64

69

65

63

72

80

66

71

The danger that a vaccinated child is more likely to be autistic than an unvaccinated child

N/A

16

22

18

12

8

16

16

Note: N/A indicates this question was not asked in July 2014


TABLE 2c

DANGER PERCEPTIONS

Summary of A Great Deal of Danger/A Moderate Danger NET by Political Party & Parental Status

Still thinking about vaccines commonly administered to children, what do you believe to be the degree of danger for each of the following?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Political Party

Parents w/ Children in HH

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Yes Kids <18

Yes Kids <10

Yes Kids <6

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The likelihood that an unvaccinated child will contract a disease that vaccinations are designed to protect against

74

79

82

81

77

80

84

83

78

The dangers to other children if a child in their proximity contracts a disease that vaccinations are designed to prevent

64

69

74

73

64

70

75

77

68

The danger that a vaccinated child is more likely to be autistic than an unvaccinated child

N/A

16

16

18

15

28

30

32

13

Note: N/A indicates this question was not asked in July 2014


TABLE 3a

Vaccine Facts and Myths

Summary Grid

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

AGREE (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

Vaccinations are an important safeguard against diseases which might be brought into our country from abroad.

93

68

25

7

4

3

It is important that children be vaccinated.

93

70

23

7

4

3

Free vaccinations should be provided to children whose families cannot afford them.

92

68

24

8

6

3

Vaccinations should be mandatory for all teachers and other school staff.

85

59

26

15

9

6

Childhood vaccinations should be mandatory for all children.

82

53

29

18

11

7

Parents who don’t want their child(ren) to be vaccinated should be required to see a doctor to get a certificate showing why they chose not to have them vaccinated.

77

43

34

23

14

9

If a child is not vaccinated they should not be allowed to attend public or private schools.

72

41

31

28

18

10

Since most children get vaccinated, it’s alright if some parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

21

5

16

79

28

51

Scientific research shows that vaccinations can cause autism.

20

5

15

80

34

47

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 3b

Vaccine Facts and Myths

Summary of Strongly Agree + Somewhat Agree NET by Generation, Gender & Annual HH Income

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Generation

Gender

Annual HH Income

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Men

Women

<$50k

$50k-$99.9k

$100k+

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Vaccinations are an important safeguard against diseases which might be brought into our country from abroad.

91

93

90

91

96

96

93

93

91

95

95

It is important that children be vaccinated.

89

93

90

91

95

97

94

92

91

92

98

Free vaccinations should be provided to children whose families cannot afford them.

90

92

91

89

93

91

91

92

92

93

91

Vaccinations should be mandatory for all teachers and other school staff.

N/A

85

80

83

89

90

83

86

85

83

90

Childhood vaccinations should be mandatory for all children.

77

82

78

80

87

85

81

84

82

82

85

Parents who don’t want their child(ren) to be vaccinated should be required to see a doctor to get a certificate showing why they chose not to have them vaccinated.

N/A

77

72

75

81

82

74

80

76

77

78

If a child is not vaccinated they should not be allowed to attend public or private schools.

69

72

66

72

76

75

72

72

71

73

77

Since most children get vaccinated, it’s alright if some parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

29

21

28

23

15

14

22

20

25

21

14

Scientific research shows that vaccinations can cause autism.

N/A

20

28

20

15

9

22

18

22

21

12

Note: N/A indicates this question was not asked in July 2014


TABLE 3c

Vaccine Facts and Myths

Summary of Strongly Agree + Somewhat Agree NET by Political Party & Parental Status

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Political Party

Parents w/ Children in HH

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Yes Kids <18

Yes Kids <10

Yes Kids <6

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Vaccinations are an important safeguard against diseases which might be brought into our country from abroad.

91

93

94

96

90

90

88

88

94

It is important that children be vaccinated.

89

93

92

95

92

92

91

92

93

Free vaccinations should be provided to children whose families cannot afford them.

90

92

89

96

89

91

92

92

92

Vaccinations should be mandatory for all teachers and other school staff.

N/A

85

85

89

82

80

81

84

86

Childhood vaccinations should be mandatory for all children.

77

82

83

89

77

78

79

82

83

Parents who don’t want their child(ren) to be vaccinated should be required to see a doctor to get a certificate showing why they chose not to have them vaccinated.

N/A

77

75

83

73

69

69

69

79

If a child is not vaccinated they should not be allowed to attend public or private schools.

69

72

73

75

70

67

66

70

73

Since most children get vaccinated, it’s alright if some parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

29

21

18

20

21

29

25

22

19

Scientific research shows that vaccinations can cause autism.

N/A

20

19

21

16

25

26

24

18

Note: N/A indicates this question was not asked in July 2014


TABLE 4a

Knowledge of REcent Measles Outbreaks

By Generation, Gender & Annual HH Income

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that Measles outbreaks had reached their highest point since 2000. Were you aware of this?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Generation

Gender

Annual HH Income

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Men

Women

<$50k

$50k-$99.9k

$100k+

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Yes

46

76

63

72

87

93

74

79

71

79

85

No

54

24

37

28

13

7

26

21

29

21

15

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 4b

Knowledge of REcent Measles Outbreaks

By Political Party & Parental Status

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that Measles outbreaks had reached their highest point since 2000. Were you aware of this?

Base: All adults

July 2014 Total

Feb 2015 Total

Political Party

Parents w/ Children in HH

Republicans

Democrats

Independents

Yes Kids <18

Yes Kids <10

Yes Kids <6

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Yes

46

76

78

77

75

78

78

76

76

No

54

24

22

23

25

22

22

24

24

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

Methodology

This HealthDay/Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between February 25 and 27, 2015 among 2,032 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.