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Gallup Survey: Most Americans Say Vaccines Are Important

Poll follows recent measles scare

A slight majority of Americans (54%) say it is extremely important that parents get their children vaccinated, down from the 64% who held this belief 14 years ago, according to a new Gallup poll. Another 30% call vaccinations “very important” –– unchanged from 2001. The rest (15%) consider them “somewhat,” “not very”" or “not at all important,” up from 2001.

These results, based on interviews conducted from February 28 through March 1, follow a relatively large measles outbreak in the U.S. stemming from pockets of unvaccinated children. This outbreak called attention to the continuing controversy over the potentially serious adverse effects of vaccines, a hypothesis advanced by some antivaccine activists, but vigorously denied by most doctors and scientists. Gallup originally asked questions about vaccines in 2001, the year the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines as a precautionary measure.

Large majorities within every major demographic group said it was extremely or very important that parents get their kids vaccinated. Views on vaccinating children were related to education and age; those with the highest education levels and Americans aged 30 years and older were the most likely to say it is important. Parents of children under 18 years of age and those who were not parents of young children held similar views on the importance of vaccines.

Overall, Americans are more likely now than in 2001 to say that they have heard about both the advantages and disadvantages of vaccinations for children, Gallup found. Americans remained significantly more likely to have heard about the advantages of vaccines than about the disadvantages, although that gap has closed since 2001.

Although Americans were slightly less likely than they were in 2001 to say vaccines are extremely important, the percentage who said that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they are designed to prevent has not changed much –– 9% now compared with 6% in 2001.

Six percent of American adults said they believe certain vaccines cause autism in children. Forty-one percent expressly disagreed with this claim, while slightly more than half of Americans were unsure.

The belief that certain vaccines cause autism in children is one of the major controversies surrounding vaccines. This claim is based in part on a now largely discredited article published in a British medical journal in the 1990s, and on public pronouncements on the subject by celebrity Jenny McCarthy. Various politicians in the years since have also created controversy with their statements on the issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention denies any connection between the two, saying, “the CDC supports the [Institute of Medicine] conclusion that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism rates in children.” The American Academy of Pediatrics similarly says, “There is no scientifically proven link between measles vaccination and autism.”

In the new survey, there was little variation in views that vaccines cause autism across demographic groups, varying within a few percentage points of the 6% average for the adult population. Younger Americans and those without college educations were most likely to say they are unsure about a causal link, and parents of children under 18 years of age were slightly more likely than others to affirm the link.

The results of the new Gallup poll were based on telephone interviews conducted in a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 years and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Source: Gallup; March 6, 2015.

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