Over Three-Fourths of Americans Believe Childhood Vaccinations Should be Mandatory

Younger Americans more likely than their elder counterparts to question vaccine safety

Aug 26, 2014, 13:00 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Aug. 26, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- With incidents on the rise for many diseases once considered dangers of the past, the subject of vaccinations has been a frequent topic of conversation in recent days. In fact, strong majorities of U.S. adults favor childhood vaccinations being mandatory for all children (77%), while seven in ten don't think unvaccinated children should be allowed to attend either public or private schools (69%). What's more, nine in ten feel it's important that children be vaccinated (89%) and believe vaccinations should be provided for free to children whose families cannot afford them (90%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,306 adults surveyed online between July 16 and 21, 2014.

For the most part, Americans appear to support such vaccinations – indicating that they're an important safeguard against diseases which might be brought into our country from abroad (91%), that they are very effective at preventing diseases (89%) and that non-vaccinated children can represent a public health risk (83%).

Americans also, by and large, recognize that there is at least a moderate danger that an unvaccinated child will contract a disease that vaccinations are designed to prevent (74%). They also recognize that a child contracting such a disease would present at least a moderate danger to other children in their proximity (64%) and such diseases represent at least a moderate danger to a child if they are, in fact, contracted (60%). That said, with only one in four U.S. adults (25%) seeing a great deal of danger in a child contracting a disease vaccinations are designed to prevent, it could be that our years of safety from these afflictions have allowed us to forget the threat such diseases represented before vaccinations for them were developed. What's more, sizable minorities hold reservations about the safety of childhood vaccines.

Vaccination concerns
While over three-fourths of U.S. adults (77%) believe childhood vaccines are either safe (34%) or very safe (43%), roughly two in ten (19%) believe they're either only a little bit safe (14%) or not at all safe (5%). Perceived safety also decreases among younger generations, with each generation progressively less likely to see vaccines as safe or very safe than their elders (68% Millennials, 76% Gen Xers, 83% Baby Boomers, 92% Matures).

Looking specifically at one widely publicized – and widely discredited – fear about vaccines, one-third of Americans (34%) believe that some childhood vaccines have been linked to autism.

Measles outbreaks on the rise
Just under half (46%) of Americans are aware that the CDC recently announced that measles outbreaks had reached their highest point since 2000, with considerable knowledge gaps observed: two-thirds of matures (68%) are aware of this, compared to 48% of Baby Boomers, 41% of Gen Xers, and 38% of Millennials.

Among those aware of the rise in Measles cases, seven in ten believe it either very (36%) or somewhat (35%) likely that declining vaccinations in the U.S. have contributed to the increase in Measles cases, while three in ten believe it's either only a little likely (22%) or not at all likely (7%) that this is the case. Baby Boomers (78%) and Matures (84%) are significantly more inclined than Millennials (64%) or Gen Xers (62%) to see this connection as very or somewhat likely.

Underestimating the need for "herd immunity"
Though seven in ten Americans (71%) disagree with the sentiment that, since most children get vaccinated, it's alright if some parents choose not to vaccinate their children, the three in ten who do agree with this statement (29%) is alarming nonetheless as it overlooks the need to insulate those portions of the population ineligible for vaccines (such as infants and the immune-deprived). What's more, with Millennials (38%) and Gen Xers (37%) are roughly twice as likely as Baby Boomers (19%) and Matures (14%) to agree with this sentiment, the perception that it is acceptable for some parents to choose not to vaccinate their children is likely to spread and increase.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between July 16 and 21, 2014 among 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #82, August 26, 2014
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Manager, Harris Poll Content

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll
On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll.  Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.

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SOURCE The Harris Poll