A new poll shows a slight but disappointing erosion of confidence in vaccination among Americans over the past decade.
The survey results, released Monday, overall show strong support for vaccines. Eighty-seven percent of Americans feel that vaccines have helped them personally. In addition, 92 percent feel that vaccines are important to the health of our society. And 90 percent felt it was at least somewhat important for parents to vaccinate their children, with most of those saying that it’s very important.
Nearly 90 percent say parents put their communities at risk when they fail to vaccinate their children.
The survey of 1,004 people was commissioned by Research America with support from the American Society for Microbiology and was carried out by Zogby Analytics. The sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percent, which means that numbers in the poll could be off by that many points in either direction.
Overall, the survey found, most Americans continue to believe that vaccinations are safe, protective and important.
In other words, most Americans continue to be supporters of vaccination. But the new survey found some disturbing changes in attitudes since a similar poll in 2008.
Ten years ago, 82 percent of Americans felt it was very important for parents to have their children vaccinated. That number has dropped to 71 percent. In 2008, 85 percent felt at least somewhat confident in the U.S. system for evaluating vaccine safety and recommending when vaccines should be given. That number is now 77 percent.
And although most Americans feel that vaccines are at least somewhat important to societal health, the number who think it is very important dropped by 10 percentage points over a decade, from 80 percent to 70 percent. Similarly, the percentage of people who felt it was “very important” for children to be vaccinated slid from 82 percent to 71%.
Sad to say, during a very difficult flu year, only 46 percent of the poll respondents said they had gotten a flu shot.
In one area, though, American support for vaccines has grown stronger, the poll found. Ten years ago, 46 percent of Americans felt strongly that parents should have the right to decide whether to have their children vaccinated. That number dropped considerably in the latest survey, to 28 percent. Perhaps it’s a sign that people are getting the message that the decision to vaccinate doesn’t just affect the health of that one child. An unvaccinated child who falls ill can spread disease to those who cannot be immunized for medical reasons, such as a compromised immune system. In addition, no vaccine is 100% effective; there is always a small percentage of children who do not derive immunity from vaccines. Those children also depend on herd immunity to keep from falling ill.
Though confidence in vaccines has sagged somewhat, that doesn’t necessarily reflect outright rejection of vaccines, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the immunization division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC News. Many of those people are confused about these complicated issues and have questions, she said.
“I was surprised at how many moms in my community had questions that I thought had been asked and answered,” said Messonnier, adding that she has two young children herself.
“Parents are inundated with information from social media, from their friends,” she added. “There’s no one-size-fits all answer, and it’s important not to preach at people.”
Indeed, the poll indicates that Americans do trust science, though they might not be well informed enough about what studies show about the safety of vaccines. A very strong majority, 85 percent, favor increased federal spending on research to improve and fund new vaccines. Only 68 percent felt that way a decade ago.
“People want more work to be done,” Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research America, told NBC News. “They want to get to more and safer vaccines.”
But given the very high safety record of current vaccines, the question remains: Would people trust the results of that research? Or if anti-vaccine forces on social media and elsewhere continued to raise false alarms about vaccine safety, would parents and other Americans be in as much doubt as they are now?
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