Many Americans have lost faith in the importance of vaccines over the past two decades, while more than half are unsure or wrongly believe that they can cause autism. At least, those are the somber conclusions of a new Gallup poll released Tuesday. Even worse is that parents of children under 18 have grown more skeptical of vaccines since 2015.
The poll, conducted by Gallup, interviewed just over 1,000 adults across the U.S. via phone last month. Among the questions asked were: “How important is it that parents get their children vaccinated—extremely important, very important, somewhat important, not very important, or not at all important?”
Only 84 percent of people agreed that childhood vaccination was extremely or very important, the poll found. That percentage is unchanged from a similar Gallup poll conducted in 2015, but it continues a slide from the 94 percent of people who said the same in a 2001 Gallup poll. What’s more, while 85 percent of people with children under 18 said vaccines were crucial in 2015, only 77 percent said so in 2019.
The figures are even more disheartening when you consider that 2019 provided some of the clearest examples of why vaccines matter so much. The U.S. faced the largest outbreaks of measles seen since the early 1990s last year, with nearly 1,300 cases across 31 states reported (that’s in addition to the millions of dollars it took to contain the highly contagious viral disease). And countries elsewhere have experienced their own startling resurgence of measles, including a massive outbreak on the small island nation of Samoa that sickened 5,000 people and killed 70, mostly children under age 5.
The Gallup findings also demonstrate how enduring the damaging myths about vaccination really have been. Forty-six percent said they weren’t sure whether vaccines could cause autism, while 10 percent said they do. In truth, the proposed link between vaccines and autism—fanned into flames by the anti-vaccination movement—has long been debunked.
It’s not necessarily a matter of people being unfamiliar with the benefits of vaccines, either. Almost 90 percent said they had heard a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about the benefits of vaccination, compared to 79 percent who said the same about any potential disadvantages. All told, 86 percent agreed that vaccines aren’t more dangerous than the diseases they try to prevent.
Scientists and public health researchers have struggled to figure out the best message to bring people skeptical of vaccines into the light, with no clear winning strategies so far. But in the Gallup poll at least, people under the age of 30 or over the age of 65 were most likely to see vaccination as crucial and know for sure that vaccines don’t cause autism, as were those who had gotten a college degree or identified as Democrats.