08 December 2023

Americans’ Vaccine Skepticism

Welcome back. I’ve blogged about Americans and vaccinations several times, most recently to highlight Dog Vaccine Hesitancy. If you recall, dog owners are especially likely to doubt dog vaccines if they themselves have reservations about human vaccines, though there’s also evidence of vaccine politicization.

Earlier I blogged that most Americans believe vaccinations are safe and effective, though you might get the impression from social media that the topic is up for debate. That post reviewed an assessment of the impact of bots and trolls and the content of Russian troll activity (Vaccination Tweet Meddling).

Reaching even further back, when blogging about conspiracy theories, I reviewed a study that suggested that medical conspiracy theories are widely known in the United States, endorsed by a rather broad segment of society and generally predictive of common health behaviors (Conspiracy Theories, Continued).

Celebrity anti-vaccine advocates compete with medical experts (from Conspiracy Theories, Continued).

All this is to introduce a recent survey that showed Americans have less confidence in vaccines than they did just a year or two ago. Vaccine confidence fell as belief in misinformation grew.

The Vaccine Survey
The survey was conducted by SSRS, an independent market research company, for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the center has been tracking Americans’ knowledge, beliefs and behaviors regarding vaccination, COVID-19, flu, RSV and other consequential health issues.

Annenberg Public Policy Center’s 13 surveys; N – number of respondents. MOE – measure of error, Deff – estimated design effects, Fielded/Closed – initial and final survey dates (from cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/APPC_ASAPH_Toplines_W13.pdf).

The most recent of the series of surveys was conducted 5-11 October 2023 with 1559 nationally representative respondents (1528 in English, 31 in Spanish; 1520 via website, 39 by telephone). The margin of sampling error was ± 3.4% at the 95% confidence level. Respondents’ data were statistically weighted to represent the U.S. adult population.

Survey Highlights

Examples of the growth in misinformation acceptance
* Childhood autism: The percentage of Americans who believe “increased vaccinations are why so many kids have autism these days” grew to 16% from 10% in April 2021.
* MMR-autism link: 12% incorrectly believe that vaccines given to children for diseases like measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) cause autism, up from 9% in June 2021.
* Flu shot and COVID-19: 9% incorrectly believe that getting a flu shot increases the risk of contracting COVID-19, up from 6% in January 2023.
* Vaccines and toxins: 12% incorrectly believe that “vaccines in general are full of toxins and harmful ingredients like ‘antifreeze,” up from 8% in April 2021.
* Cancer and mRNA vaccines: 12% incorrectly believe that mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 cause cancer, up from 9% in January 2023.
* COVID-19 vaccine: 21% say the vaccine is not safer than the disease, up from 10% in April 2021.
* Ivermectin and COVID-19: 26% incorrectly say ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID-19, up from 10% in September 2021. 

Survey responses to question D49: Ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID-19; superscript letters indicate statistically significant differences with the corresponding survey (from cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/APPC_ASAPH_Toplines_W13.pdf).

Examples of reduced belief in vaccine safety, effectiveness or both since August 2022
* MMR vaccine: 81% believe the MMR vaccine is safe, 83% believe it’s effective; down respectively from 88% and 87%.
* Flu vaccine: 75% believe the flu vaccine is effective, down from 81%.
* Pneumonia vaccine: 74% believe the pneumonia vaccine is safe, 69% believe it’s effective, down respectively from 80% and 74%.
* HPV vaccine: 61% believe the human papillomavirus vaccine is effective, down from 66%.
* Covid-19 vaccine: 66% believe the Covid-19 vaccine is safe, down from 73%.

Wrap Up
Those who think approved vaccines are safe dropped to 71% from 77% in April 2021. Those who don’t think approved vaccines are safe grew to 16% from 9% over that same period.

Although the proportion of the Americans that are skeptical of vaccines is, in some cases, still small, the growth in misinformation acceptance is a warning sign. As the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and director of the survey noted, “Growing numbers now distrust health-protecting, life-saving vaccines.”

Thanks for stopping by.

Article on Annenberg Public Policy Center survey: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1006556
SSRS methods report: cdn.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/W13-APPC-National-Survey-Wave-13_Methods-Report_Final-10302023.pdf

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