Public Support For Vaccination Remains Strong

On November 29, the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted hearings on “A Look into the Federal Response to the Rising Rates of Autism.” A persistent theme of the hearing was the alleged link between vaccinations and autism. Congressman Dan Burton led the charge, arguing, “I’m convinced that the mercury in vaccinations is a contributing factor to neurological diseases such as autism.” These conclusions are consistent with anti-vaccination statements made by other politicians, such as Michele Bachmann.

This increased attention to vaccines and public safety raises the question: what does the public think? As it so happens, from November 23-26, 2012, YouGov surveyed 1000 Americans about their views concerning vaccination.

I asked respondents, “How confident are you that the schedule of vaccines recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services is safe?” Taken as a whole, the public is confident that vaccines are safe. Specifically, 72% are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” of the safety of vaccines. This support extends to Republicans and Democrats alike. Though Democrats are somewhat more confident than Republicans – almost certainly a result of the interaction between anti-government sentiment among Republicans and the mention of a government agency in the question – nearly two-thirds of Republicans remain confident of the safety of vaccines.

Table 1: How confident are you that the schedule of vaccines recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services is safe?

How confident are you that the schedule of vaccines recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services is safe?
  Full Sample Democrats   Republicans
Very Confident 22% 26% 17%
Somewhat Confident 50% 54% 46%
Not So Confident 22% 18% 28%
Not Confident At All 6% 3% 9%

I also asked respondents which medical conditions they thought were linked to vaccines. Respondents could select as many of the options as they wished. Though “autism” was the condition selected by the most respondents, only 29% of respondents selected that choice – over two-thirds of the public rejects the link between autism and vaccines. Moreover, unlike the general vaccination safety question, there was almost no divide between the parties on the veracity of the link between vaccines and autism. 

Do you believe any of the following conditions are linked to vaccines? Please check all that apply. (percent saying “yes”)
  Full Sample Democrats   Republicans
Autism 29% 27% 31%
Cancer 10% 9% 11%
Diabetes 7% 8% 5%
Heart Disease 9% 9% 10%

The bottom line here is clear. Large majorities of the public – Republican and Democrat alike – are secure in thinking that vaccines are safe. Moreover, even larger segments of the public reject the belief that there is a link between vaccines and autism.

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Adam Berinsky

Adam J. Berinsky is a Professor of Political Science at MIT. Berinsky received his PhD. from the University of Michigan in 2000. He is a specialist in the fields of political behavior and public opinion.  He is the author of In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq (University of Chicago Press, 2009) and Silent Voices: Public Opinion and Political Participation in America (Princeton University Press, 2004) and has published articles in many scholarly journals. He has won several scholarly awards, is the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.