The criticism of vaccines voiced by President Trump and some other public figures is at odds with the attitudes of most Americans, who overwhelmingly support requiring public school children to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.
Overall, 82 percent of Americans support requiring students in public schools to be vaccinated for those three diseases. In addition, the survey found, their perceptions of the benefits of that combination vaccine are strongly positive, with about 88 percent saying the benefits outweigh any risks. About 73 percent of Americans see high preventive health benefits, and 66 percent say there is a low risk of side effects.
The survey, which was conducted before the November presidential election, comes at a time when medical, scientific and government experts have raised alarms about Trump's embrace of discredited claims about vaccine safety. He recently said he was considering creation of a vaccine commission, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already has a well established expert panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, that follows a scientifically rigorous and open process to evaluate all aspects of vaccine safety.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter has requested a meeting with first lady Melania Trump to talk about the safety of vaccines. Carter is cofounder and president of Every Child By Two, a vaccine advocacy group. "We offered to bring experts to the table to explain all the science that has already been conducted on the safety of vaccines and the safety systems that are already in place which would make the commission redundant and unnecessary," Amy Pisani, the group's executive director, said in an interview this week.
Despite a robust body of medical literature disproving claims that childhood vaccines are linked to autism or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, public concerns persist, fueled by celebrities and conspiracy theorists.
Trump has long been critical of vaccines. He met with several vaccine skeptics during his campaign and since his election, including the discredited British exphysician Andrew Wakefield — who attended one of the presidential inaugural balls. Wakefield launched the modern antivaccine movement after publishing a study, now fully discredited as fraudulent, that connected autism to the MMR vaccine. In January, Trump also met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a leading proponent of that debunked theory. Kennedy said afterward that he and Trump had discussed creation of a commission on vaccines, which he would chair. A White House spokeswoman said Wednesday that she had no update on the commission.
The Pew survey found that Americans 65 and older have especially strong support for a school-based requirement for the MMR vaccine. Ninety percent favor such a requirement; 8 percent say parents should be able to decide. Among Americans younger than 50, support for required vaccination drops to just under 80 percent. Parents of young children are the most concerned about vaccine safety. Just over half of those with children ages 4 and younger say the risk of side effects is low, according to Pew, while 43 percent say the risk is medium or high.
As for preventive health benefits, 60 percent of parents with young children say the benefits are high, compared with 75 percent of parents with school-age children (ages 5 to 17).
Racial and ethnic groups have different perceptions, too. Blacks consider the risk of vaccine side effects to be higher and the benefits lower than whites and Hispanics. People with "low science knowledge" are also more likely to fear greater risk of side effects, Pew found.
"Public health benefits from vaccines hinge on very high levels of immunization in the population, so it's important to understand which groups hold reservations about the MMR vaccine," said Cary Funk, the report's lead author.
Authorities blame the resurgence of childhood diseases in recent years — including a multistate measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in 2015 — on the growing number of people who either decline to vaccinate their children for personal reasons or who delay certain vaccines.