Pew Center Finds Most Americans Support Vaccinating Kids for Measles

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The vast majority of Americans believe the benefits of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine outweigh any risks it may present—and what’s more, those risks are low—according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

In addition, the survey results, released Tuesday, found that a growing percentage of people consider immunizations’ power to prevent serious illness to be very high.

The findings come at a time of increased measles outbreaks in the U.S. and abroad, as well as an increase in vocal opponents who are questioning the safety of vaccines, and those who think that parents should be able to decide which vaccines their kids get.

“There’s an ongoing concern in the public health community about the rise of measles cases in the U.S.,” said Cary Funk, the Pew center’s director of science and society research.

According to Pew, 88 percent of U.S. adults say the benefits of the MMR vaccine surpass any risks it may have—the same percentage as the last survey in 2016. The share of people who consider the health benefits of the vaccine to be “very high” grew over the last three years from 45 percent to 56 percent.

In addition, 69 percent of those surveyed consider the risks of side effects from the vaccine to be low or very low.

The findings were based on a web survey conducted in October among 3,627 U.S. adults.

For the most part, the Pew researchers found strong support for vaccinating schoolchildren. According to the results, 82 percent of Americans said the MMR vaccine should be required for public school attendance. However 16 percent felt parents should be able to decide whether or not their children are immunized even if their failure to vaccinate might create health risks for others.

Allowing vaccine exemptions for schoolchildren is a hot topic locally and nationally. The New Jersey Senate last month tabled a vote on a bill that could have done away with religious exemptions when it seemed there weren’t enough votes to pass the bill. The measure may come up for vote again later this month. A study earlier last year by the New Jersey Hospital Association found that religious vaccination exemptions for children rose 53 percent in the past five years, despite the fact that leaders of virtually all major religions have advised their members to get their children immunized.

All major religions have voiced support for vaccination. The Pew survey found that white evangelical Protestants, at 20 percent, were somewhat more likely to say parents should be able to decide whether their children are vaccinated, compared to 11 percent of mainstream Protestants.

Although the survey results show widespread support for the MMR vaccine, Pew did detect some differences depending on factors like income, education level, generation, race, and whether those surveyed had children.

For example, 93 percent of Americans with postgraduate degrees said they felt the vaccines’ health benefits were very high, compared to 68 percent support among people with high school education or less. Among upper income earners, 95 percent felt the benefits of vaccines outweighed the risks, but that support dropped to 81 percent among lower income adults.

Interestingly, parents of children under age 18 were somewhat less positive about the vaccine than people without children under 18. Among the parents with minor children, 70 percent said the vaccine’s preventative health benefits were high or very high, compared to 81 percent of non-parents.

Support varied little along political party lines. However, 26 percent of black adults said vaccination should be a parental decision, compared to 19 percent of Hispanic Americans and 13 percent of whites.

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