National Consumers League

Vaccine perception study finds Americans wary, misinformed about vaccine benefits


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February 5, 2015

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League, benk@nclnet.org, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is asking parents to look at the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective and get their kids vaccinated. With increasing numbers of parents foregoing the measles and other vaccinations, experts are concerned this behavior is putting whole communities at risk.

“This generation of parents has never experienced the panic—and often heartbreak—caused by outbreaks of diphtheria, polio, small pox, tetanus and influenza that earlier generations of parents suffered before vaccines were discovered,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director. “History books are filled with harrowing accounts of parents losing multiple children to these diseases, illnesses that today have been all but eradicated. Let us never return to those dark days and thank modern science and medicine that our children can lead healthy, long, and happy lives.”

NCL, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy group, conducted a survey that sadly reveals a deep distrust in the effectiveness and safety of vaccines.  

According to a national Harris Poll conducted in 2013:

  • 76% of those surveyed agreed with the statement: More research is needed on the safety of vaccines and the risk they pose.
  • 61% agreed that: Pharmaceutical companies minimize vaccine risks.
  • 45% agree that: The national media minimizes vaccine risks.
  • 45% agree that: Vaccines are just a way for pharmaceutical companies to make money.
  • 33% agree that: “I think vaccinations can cause autism.”

Not only are children who are not vaccinated made unnecessarily susceptible to diseases that vaccines could otherwise prevent, but children who cannot be vaccinated due to health concerns or because they are too young, are also put at risk due to the decreased strength of herd immunity. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that children that do not receive the measles vaccine are 35 times more likely to contract measles than children who are vaccinated.

“Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are misinformed and are endangering the larger community,” said Greenberg. “The evidence that vaccines cause autism has been thoroughly debunked, and the study has been retracted after it was found to contain falsified research. There is no credible link from vaccines to autism, they are not poisonous, and they can save children from life threatening diseases. Those are the facts.”

The effects of the anti-vaccination movement have been manifested in the increasing numbers of measles diagnoses. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared measles eliminated. In 2014, the CDC confirmed 644 cases in 27 states, and just one month into 2015, there have already been 102 confirmed cases in 14 states. If the current rate of diagnoses is maintained throughout the year, 2015’s total measles diagnoses will nearly double 2014 numbers.

“Americans are confused about vaccines, plain and simple,” said Rebecca Burkholder, NCL vice president for health policy. “For over a generation, we have lived virtually free from many of these diseases due to the very effectiveness of the vaccines that have stamped them out. We have lost perspective on how deadly they can be. Now, we are dealing with a group of Americans who don’t appreciate the severity of these illnesses, are exercising personal choice to abstain from vaccinating, and are enabling these deadly diseases to start to infiltrate our communities once again.”

NCL’s survey revealed that adults do not view measles as a severe disease, despite the fact that for centuries, before a vaccine was invented, measles killed up to 500 children a year and hospitalized an estimated 48,000 more. When asked to rank diseases for severity, measles (6.9/10) ranked near the bottom, with mumps (6.9/10), the flu (6.4/10), and chicken pox (6.4/10). Comparatively, meningitis (8.5/10) and polio (8.4/10) ranked at the top.

Although most survey respondents (87%) say they support mandatory vaccination of school-aged children in theory, 64 percent of adults say parents should have the final say about whether or not to vaccinate. Experts fear it is this misguided personal choice that is dramatically threatening our nation’s health. 

“We must not allow anti-vaccination rhetoric to undermine a critically important method for keeping children safe from illness or disease. A century ago, parents lived in fear of losing a child to typhoid, polio, measles, or small pox. Today, thanks to modern science, we should no longer need to worry about these grave threats to our children’s safety,” said Greenberg. “Absent a religious belief or health concern, it is every parent’s moral responsibility to ensure their children are vaccinated.”

The national survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive among 1,756 U.S. adult Americans, of whom 993 are parents of children under 18, in August – September 2013.

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About the National Consumers League

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