THURSDAY, Jan. 20 (HealthDay News) -- 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.
The poll was conducted last week, following news reports that
said the lead researcher of a controversial 1998 study linking
autism to the MMR vaccine had used fraudulent research to come to
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.
Still, the percentage of fully vaccinated children remains high,
at 92 percent, the poll found.
"This sounds like a cup half-empty/cup half-full story," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. He noted that while the number of people who believe in a connection between vaccines and autism is "only 18 percent," that nonetheless translates to "millions and millions and millions of people, and it's clear that in some cases that has led them to not vaccinate their children."
Vaccine safety has been a major concern for many parents since
the publication of the 1998 study, led by now disgraced British
doctor Andrew Wakefield, which concluded that the MMR vaccine
caused autism. The journal that originally published the study,
The Lancet, has since retracted the paper and Wakefield was recently barred from practicing medicine in Britain.
In recent weeks, another leading British medical journal,
BMJ, has published a series of articles purporting to expose deliberate fraud by Wakefield in his handling of the research that served as the basis for the 1998 study.
In the new
Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, 69 percent of respondents
said they had heard about the theory that some vaccinations can
But only half (47 percent) knew that the original
Lancet study by Wakefield and other researchers had been
retracted, and that some of that research is now alleged to be
"Forty-seven percent is a huge number and this is a relatively new thing [allegations of fraud], so it's remarkable that they have heard of it. But that still means that half the population has not," Taylor said.
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.
"There seems to be reasonable support for vaccination and I think this will increase with the revelation that a lot of this stuff was based on fraud or bad science," said Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, chairman of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Research Center at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City.
Overall, 69 percent of adults polled agreed that schools should
require vaccinations -- including, interestingly, 52 percent of
those who believe that autism might be connected to
Sixteen percent of all adults surveyed said they knew of at
least one family whose children had not received all recommended
vaccines due to concerns about autism. One-quarter of those who
believed the vaccine-autism theory said they knew at least one
family that had not fully vaccinated their children.
Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National
Vaccine Information Center, which supports more research into the
safety of vaccinations, said autism is just one concern linked to
"Parents have legitimate questions about vaccine risks and want better vaccine science to define those risks for their own child," she said. "This concern long predated the debate about vaccines and autism. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was passed by Congress, in part, to address those concerns but has not done the job.
"The Harris poll points out the urgent need for a renewed effort to conduct new vaccine safety studies that are methodologically sound and free from real or perceived conflicts of interest," Fisher added, "or a significant portion of the public will continue to question the conclusions."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, an estimated one in 110 children in the United States
has an autism spectrum disorder, part of a group of developmental
disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and
Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll was conducted online within
the United States from Jan. 11-13, and included 2,026 adults over
the age of 18. 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.
Read more about the poll methodology and findings at
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