Belief in link between autism and vaccines persists despite studies

April 7, 2014

Adult Americans lack sufficient information about the safety of vaccines and the risks of failing to vaccinate for highly contagious diseases, according to a survey released by the National Consumers League.

Unfortunately, US adults don’t know enough about the safety of vaccines and the risks associated with not receiving scheduled vaccinations for highly contagious diseases, according to a survey released by the National Consumers League (NCL).

NCL’s survey of 1,756 U.S. adults, including parents of children under aged 18 years, conducted online by Harris Poll in August and September, showed that one third of parents (33%) and a similar proportion of adults (29%) agreed with the statement “Vaccinations cause autism.”

“This is troubling because numerous scientific studies have clarified that there is no correlation between the two,” said Ayanna Johnson, health policy manager at NCL.

According to public health experts, the result of not vaccinating children has recently led to outbreaks of highly contagious, preventable, and sometimes deadly diseases, such as whooping cough.

The survey also showed that 50% 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.

“Knowledge is an important first step to enhancing understanding of the importance of vaccinations for adults and children,” Johnson said. “This survey found that American adults are lacking in sufficient and accurate information about the safety of vaccinations and the risks of failing to vaccinate for contagious diseases.”

 

NCL was interested in exploring the attitudes and sources of information about vaccines in the general public, according to Johnson. “Because so many vaccinations are given during childhood, we wanted to explore parental attitudes as well. Specifically, it was designed to measure awareness of, concerns about, and explore myths and misconceptions surrounding vaccines. There are increasing reports of outbreaks of diseases that had been once been eradicated in the US population.”

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that measles elimination had been maintained in the United States since 2000, “but we are seeing an increase in cases,” she said. “For each of these outbreaks, transmission of the disease occurred in pockets of persons unvaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs.”

NCL also investigated the value of vaccinating. More than 80% of the survey respondents supported mandatory vaccination for school-aged children. Nearly 75% of adults are concerned about the drop in vaccination rates in the United States, and 82% agree that vaccinations can help reduce healthcare costs.

“People understand that vaccines are valuable for the overall health of our community,” Johnson said.

The findings reiterate the importance of providing Americans proper education and information about vaccines, according to Johnson. “The survey found that parents overwhelmingly trust healthcare providers to provide them with information about vaccines. As healthcare influencers, it is critical to create policies and information that support parents in making the best decision for their child, family, and community.”

Managed care and hospital decision-makers are among the best voices to help disseminate accurate information about vaccines, according to Johnson.

“Whether at the hospital bedside or in the doctor’s office, providers can educate their patients about immunizations and check patient records for adherence to recommended immunization schedules,” she said. “People need the right information so that they can weigh the risks and benefits of vaccination.”