National Consumers League

Survey: One third of American parents mistakenly link vaccines to autism

April 2, 2014

Washington, DC—According to a survey released today by the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer organization, adult Americans lack sufficient information about the safety of vaccines and the risks of failing to vaccinate for highly contagious diseases. Despite scientific studies clarifying that vaccines are not linked to autism in children, 33 percent of parents of children under the age of 18 and 29 percent of all adults continue to believe “vaccinations can cause autism.” According to public health experts, the failure to vaccinate children has recently led to outbreaks of highly contagious, preventable, and sometimes deadly diseases, like whooping cough.

NCL’s survey of 1,756 U.S. adults, conducted online by Harris Poll in August and September, also revealed that 50 percent of parents are aware of the study that linked autism to childhood vaccinations, but only half of these parents are aware that the study has since been discredited and retracted.

“The anti-vaccination movement that has gained so much momentum in recent years is doing real, measurable damage to the health of our communities,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of NCL. “Vaccinations for diseases that had been wiped out until recently are being rejected by a small but significant number of parents, causing some of these virulent diseases to emerge once again. Those who choose not to vaccinate put the rest of us at risk.”

Examples of the re-emergence of diseases caused by failure to vaccinate include the following, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report:

  • An outbreak of mumps on the Ohio State University campus infected 69 individuals;
  • 27 people were infected with mumps after an outbreak at Fordham University; and
  • New York City recently warned of a measles outbreak that infected16 individuals. According to the CDC report, “The increase in measles cases in the United States in 2013 serves as a reminder that imported measles cases can result in large outbreaks, particularly if introduced into areas with pockets of unvaccinated persons. During 2013, nearly two-thirds of the cases came from three outbreaks. Transmission occurred after introduction of measles into communities with pockets of persons unvaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs."

According to NCL’s survey, while most Americans understand the benefits of vaccination, many still see it as an issue of individual choice. More than 4 in 5 (82 percent) adults agree that vaccinations help reduce health care costs, and 72 percent are concerned about the drop in vaccination rates in the United States. However, 60 percent say they respect the decision of parents when choosing whether or not to vaccinate their children.

Survey findings

Only two in five (39 percent) of parents surveyed describe themselves as being extremely or very knowledgeable about how vaccines work. But, among those, 35 percent also believe that vaccinations can cause autism.

Who parents trust for information about vaccines:

81% health care providers
37% Web-based sources
32% the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
22% family
10% child’s school

Nearly a quarter of parents (23%) trust physicians on TV like Dr. Oz and Dr. Gupta to relay medical information to the public, 11 percent trust morning shows like the ‘Today Show,’ and 7% trust talk show hosts to relay medical information.

Nearly two in five adults (37 percent) who are somewhat or not at all knowledgeable about how vaccines work say they trust the doctors on TV to relay medical information to the public. Less than a third (29%) of adults who are extremely or very knowledgeable feel the same.

On mandatory vaccination policies:

  • A majority of adults (87%) and Parents (81%) support mandatory vaccinations for school-aged children.
  • 76% of parents say that they think parents or guardians should have the final say about whether or not children should be vaccinated (vs. 64% of all adults).

For more information about the survey, contact the National Consumers League.


About the National Consumers League 
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

About the Survey
The national survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the National Consumers League among 1,756 U.S. adult Americans (ages 18 and older), of whom 993 are parents of children under 18, in August – September 2013. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact the National Consumers League.