Almost half of Americans express doubts about vaccines


Close to half of American adults say that they have some doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, according to the American Osteopathic Association.

Leading causes of doubt (vaccine safety)

In a survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the AOA, 45% of the 2,007 respondents expressed a negative attitude towards vaccine safety, with online articles (16%) and past secrets/wrongdoings by the pharmaceutical industry (16%) cited as the leading causes, the AOA said.

There was no difference in negative attitude between men and women, but age, region, and parental status each had a notable effect. Doubts of vaccine safety were highest in those aged 18-34 years (55%) and lowest in those aged 65 and older (29%). Those living in the West had the highest rate at 50%, while residents of the Midwest were lowest at 39%, and the negative attitude rate was 55% for adults who had children under age 18 years and 40% for those who did not, the AOA reported.

Respondents to the survey, conducted May 28-30, 2019, also were asked to choose one of five statements that best expressed their view of vaccines, and those data paint a somewhat different picture:

  • 2% said vaccines are unsafe and ineffective.
  • 6% said that the side-effect risks outweigh the benefits.
  • 9% said they were not sure if vaccines are safe and effective.
  • 31% said that the benefits outweigh the risks.
  • 51% said that vaccines are safe and effective.

Social media were another important source of doubt among respondents, but they have not been effective at countering the spread of vaccine misinformation, said psychiatrist Rachel Shmuts, DO, of Cherry Hill, N.J.

Confirmation bias makes it difficult to convince someone vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary once they believe they are not. “The number of people who believe vaccines are dangerous and refuse to get them is still relatively small. However, online support groups seem to solidify their beliefs, making them less susceptible to influence from their neighbors and real-world communities,” she said in the AOA statement.

Osteopathic family physician Paul Ehrmann, DO, said in the statement, “People know that a lot of practices won’t accept patients who don’t vaccinate, so when they find one that will, they spread the word to their community that it’s a safe place. Whether intentional or not, those doctors are often seen as endorsing anti-vaxxer beliefs.”

In 2017, his home state of Michigan, with other partners, put on a public information campaign. It has “significantly improved vaccination rates across demographics,” according to the statement.

“Beliefs are hard to change especially when they’re based in fear,” Dr. Ehrmann, of Royal Oak, Mich., said in the statement. “But, being responsible for our patients’ health and the public’s health, we can’t afford to give in to those fears. We must insist on evidence-based medicine.”

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