July 17, 2015

5 facts about vaccines in the U.S.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation June 30 making it mandatory as of next July for children enrolled in public or private schools and day cares to be vaccinated, ending the state’s policy that allowed personal and religious exemptions to vaccine requirements. The new law, one of the strictest in the nation, comes after a measles outbreak in California infected more than 100 and prompted health officials to urge parents to properly vaccinate their children.

The outbreak and subsequent legislation has brought new attention to the anti-vaccination movement, vaccine safety and mandatory immunizations. Here are five facts about the issue:

1Large Majority Views Childhood Vaccines as SafeA vast majority of Americans view childhood vaccines as safe. Roughly eight-in-ten U.S. adults (83%) say vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella are safe for healthy children, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year. Only 9% of the public say these types of vaccines are unsafe, while 7% say they don’t know.

2Although majorities of all major demographic groups say vaccines are safe, some groups are more skeptical than others. Younger adults are more likely than older adults to believe vaccines are harmful. Some 12% of adults ages 18 to 49 say childhood vaccinations are unsafe, while only 5% of adults 50 and older agree. There are also differences based on race and educational attainment. Blacks (26%) and Hispanics (15%) are more likely than whites (6%) to say childhood vaccinations are unsafe. And 14% of those with a high school diploma or less believe that vaccines are unsafe, compared with just 6% of those with some college experience or more.

3Younger Groups Less Supportive of Mandatory Childhood VaccinationsRoughly two-thirds of American adults support mandatory childhood vaccinations, but younger adults are more likely to say vaccinating children should be a parental choice. A Pew Research survey conducted in 2014 found that 68% of U.S. adults agree that all children should be required to be vaccinated, while 30% say vaccinating children should be a parental choice. These overall views have changed little since 2009, when 69% of the public said childhood vaccinations should be required.

Yet while opinions on this issue were similar across age groups in 2009, the 2014 survey shows that younger adults are more likely to support parental choice: 41% of 18- to 29-year-olds believe parents should have the right not to vaccinate their children, compared with only 20% of adults ages 65 or older. While there are no significant differences on this question by race, education, income or gender, a multivariate logistic regression analysis finds that more Hispanics tend to say vaccines should be required compared with non-Hispanic whites.

4Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans or independents to say childhood vaccinations should be required. While similar shares of Republicans, Democrats and independents agree that vaccines are safe for healthy children, there are modest divisions on the question of whether or not vaccines should be required. Republicans (34%) and independents (33%) are somewhat more likely than Democrats (22%) to believe that vaccinating children should be a parental choice. In 2009, there were no differences based on party affiliation.

5Only three states – Mississippi, West Virginia and now California – do not allow religious or personal exemptions to vaccines. With the new legislation, California will join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states that do not offer nonmedical exemptions for childhood vaccinations, according to a Pew Research analysis of state laws. In all, 46 states allow religious exemptions for childhood vaccines, while 17 states allow both personal and religious exemptions. In Maine, a bill that would have made it tougher for parents to obtain vaccine exemptions for their children was recently vetoed by the state’s governor.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Religion and Government, Health Care, U.S. Political Parties, Family and Relationships, Health

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.


  1. Jermey Snufflebutt2 years ago

    I hate it that people make kids not get vaccinations. I am a father of 6 children and they always want to get shots to be healthy. They know about sickness and want to not be sick. My boys are 11,7,10 and my girls are 15,7,9 and they havent been sick since they were 6

    1. Emily Campbell1 year ago

      I agree that vaccines are a wonderful invention, but I also believe that the government should not force people to vaccinate their children. Giving the government that degree of power would be dangerous.

      And I think health is just as much dependent on the individual immune system as on vaccination. I’m 15, and I haven’t been vaccinated in maybe 5 years, and I’ve never had anything major (more than an occasional fever or stomach bug) and I’m never sick for more than a few days.

  2. Marlaina Dreher2 years ago

    I think Paul’s comment has a lot of merit. Detachment from tragedy and violence makes it less real to people. When you are from my generation (born in the 1980s) it is hard to understand what a disease like the Measles can cost a society because we have never lived through/witnessed a Measles outbreak. So it is much easier to take for granted the utility of mass vaccination. This is the very definition of privilege. Our nation is so privileged that we do not even realize all the ways in which we benefit from the wealth of the U.S.; it all seems normal to us that young children do not die from common diseases. Elsewhere in the world, where vaccines are not as readily available, people understand the need for vaccines. As a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, I am skeptical about the people who claim that vaccines cause Autism. Firstly, this claim was hypothesized long ago without any scientific proof to substantiate it. Second, scientist and medical researchers have since conducted numerous studies that refute this claim. Third, even if the claim were true…I would take a living child with Autism every single day, over the potential of having a neurotypical child who dies from the Measles. I think at the end of the day people have used that argument as a way to elicit fear and doubt from people who do not understand the way vaccines work or what Autism actually is.

  3. Paul Gadbois2 years ago

    Only 5% of adults 50 and older say that vaccines are not safe – maybe because we are old enough to have seen the results before the vaccines existed. My older siblings went to the hospital to visit a classmate who had survived polio and saw the iron lungs. They passed the ward where the tetanus victim screamed constantly because of the pain. I and my siblings all had the common “childhood diseases”, measles, mumps, chicken pox, and measles again. One little girl in particular stands out in my mind – she didn’t come back from the second bout of measles (I don’t remember if it was German or 3-day). She wasn’t the only one though. There were two in my class (second grade) and five total for the school that died that year alone due to diseases that are now easily preventable. The people who are most against vaccines are the ones who haven’t been sick a day in their lives because of the same vaccines they are most afraid of.

  4. Carol Van Der Woude2 years ago

    The University of Illinois is requiring students to get a third MMR even if they have already had two. In the spring there was an outbreak of mumps among students that had received two doses of the vaccine. I have included an excerpt from the e-mail I received in my blog. carolvanderwoude.com/2015/08/ano…

  5. Alane2 years ago

    I’m very surprised that Pew Research labeled the results of this poll as “facts.” You are the first to state that opinions are not facts. How disappointing.

    1. Emily Campbell1 year ago

      These are facts. That is, the opinions themselves aren’t facts, but it is a fact that certain percentages of the population hold particular opinions.

  6. sissi2 years ago

    fiercevaccines.com/story/merck-g… it’s all led by corporate profit. Are vaccines safe, do they cause autism, is ethylmercury or aluminum safe ? Few know the answers, and their voices have been silenced through very successful media censorship. No child will be spared.Most people just simply aren’t smart enough to read the science . Group thinking “feels” safe.

    1. Varuka Salt2 years ago

      Quit spreading lies sissi. Vaccines are safe and don’t cause autism.

    2. Anonymous1 year ago

      I agree.