Harris poll: Slightly More Than Half of Americans Say Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism

20 Jan

I expect this to be taken as a great victory. The vaccine hypothesis is a part of the national psyche, according to a Harris Poll, recently released.

The poll states that:

Just a slim majority of Americans — 52 percent — think vaccines don’t cause autism, a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll found.

Conversely, 18 percent are convinced that vaccines, like the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, can cause the disorder, and another 30 percent aren’t sure.

Of the 18%, 2% felt that it was “certainly true” and 16% “probably true”.

Why will this be considered a victory? A while back an article in Pediatrics discussed vaccine fears, and had this quote:

“Our study indicates that a disturbingly high proportion of parents [25%] continue to believe that some vaccines cause autism in otherwise healthy children.”

That report was met with the following statement by the founder of Generation Rescue, JB Handley:

With less than a half-dozen full-time activists, annual budgets of six figures or less, and umpteen thousand courageous, undaunted, and selfless volunteer parents, our community, held together with duct tape and bailing wire, is in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.

and he felt those in his “community” were responsible:

Community, prepare to take a bow, America is listening.

The idea that 18% definitely believe in vaccine causation is a big step, demonstrating that the idea has become common.

I will not that this is down from the Pediatrics poll (25%) which caused the “take a bow” blog post. But 18% is a sizable amount of the population, and this may not be a significant difference given different methodologies.

Even people who believe in vaccine causation are still mostly getting vaccinated, which brings up a very interesting question of how strongly they believe in the idea. It is one thing to say, “in some very rare cases, vaccines might cause autism” and “there is an epidemic of autism caused by vaccines”. Those who believe in the vaccine-induced epidemic would be, in my naive view, much less likely to vaccinate.

The poll also found that parents who have lingering doubts about the vaccine were less likely to say that their children were fully vaccinated (86 percent), compared to 98 percent of parents who believe in the safety of vaccines.

About 47% of those polled were aware that the Wakefield Lancet study was retracted and/or that it was declared fraudulent. That is huge. How many people are aware of any research paper that is 12 years old?

But here is a very telling result:

Still, the retraction and allegations of fraud do seem to have influenced public perception. Among those who had been following the news about Wakefield, only 35 percent believed the vaccine-autism theory, compared to 65 percent who had not kept up to date on the latest developments.

Informing the public about the retraction of the Lancet study and about Mr. Wakefield’s ethical lapses is having a big effect on reducing the belief in vaccine-causation.

More detailed information can be found here.

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5 Responses to “Harris poll: Slightly More Than Half of Americans Say Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism”

  1. brian January 20, 2011 at 23:05 #

    According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 41% of American adults believe in extra-sensory perception, 37% believe in haunted houses, and 25% believe in astrology.

    In that context, it’s actually quite remarkable that the recent Harris poll found that only “18 percent are convinced that vaccines, like the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, can cause [autism].” That’s similar to the percentage of American adults who, according to a 2010 Harris poll, believe that Obama is the Antichrist.

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  3. Harris poll: Slightly More Than Half of Americans Say Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism - January 26, 2011

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