As many as 20% of Americans don't believe in vaccines, a new study finds.
Misinformed vaccine beliefs drive opposition to public vaccine policies even more than politics, education, religion or other factors, researchers say.
The findings are based on a survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. adults done in 2019, during the largest measles outbreak in 25 years.
The researchers, from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, or APPC, of the University of Pennsylvania, found that negative misperceptions about vaccinations:
- reduced the likelihood of supporting mandatory childhood vaccines by 70%,
- reduced the likelihood of opposing religious exemptions by 66%,
- reduced the likelihood of opposing personal belief exemptions by 79%.
"There are real implications here for a vaccine for COVID-19," lead author Dominik Stecula said in an APPC news release. He conducted the research while at APPC and is now an assistant professor of political science at Colorado State University. "The negative vaccine beliefs we examined aren't limited only to the measles, mumps and rubella [MMR] vaccine, but are general attitudes about vaccination."
Stecula called for an education campaign by public health professionals and journalists, among others, to preemptively correct misinformation and prepare the public to accept a COVID-19 vaccine.
Overall, there was strong support for vaccination policies:
- 72% strongly or somewhat supported mandatory childhood vaccination,
- 60% strongly or somewhat opposed religious exemptions,
- 66% strongly or somewhat opposed vaccine exemptions based on personal beliefs.
"On the one hand, these are big majorities: Well above 50% of Americans support mandatory childhood vaccinations and oppose religious and personal belief exemptions to vaccination," said co-author Ozan Kuru, a former APPC researcher, now an assistant professor of communications at the National University of Singapore.
"Still, we need a stronger consensus in the public to bolster pro-vaccine attitudes and legislation and thus achieve community immunity," he added in the release.
A previous study from the 2018-2019 measles outbreak found that people who rely on social media were more likely to be misinformed about vaccines.
And a more recent one found that people who got information from social media or conservative news outlets at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to be misinformed about how to prevent infection and hold conspiracy theories about it.
With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, the number of Americans needed to be vaccinated to achieve community-wide immunity is not known, the researchers said.
The findings were recently published online in the American Journal of Public Health.
For more about vaccines, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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