That is according to the latest health survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. The survey with responses from a panel of 1,500 U.S. adults found that the number of Americans who think vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are safe dropped to 71% from 77% in April 2021. At the same time, the percentage of adults who do not think vaccines approved in the U.S. are safe jumped up to 16% from 9% over that time. The survey was conducted October 5-12, 2023.
“Despite concerted efforts by news organizations, public health officials, scientists, and fact-checkers (including APPC’s project FactCheck.org) to counter viral misinformation about vaccination and COVID-19, the survey finds that some false or unproven claims about them are more widely accepted today than two to three years ago,” according to an AAPC press release.
The press release pointed out that while the proportion of the American public holding those beliefs remains very small in most cases, misinformation—and acceptance of it—is on the upswing, especially when it comes to vaccines.
“There are warning signs in these data that we ignore at our peril,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and director of the survey. “Growing numbers now distrust health-protecting, life-saving vaccines.”
Among the survey findings are that fewer than two-thirds of Americans (63%) think is it safer to get the COVID-19 vaccine than the COVID-19 disease, a decline from 75% in April 2021. Another area of misinformation involves the drug ivermectin, with 26% incorrectly believing it is an effective treatment for COVID-19, a steep rise from 10% in September 2021.
The survey data come from the 13th wave of a nationally representative panel of 1,559 U.S. adults, first empaneled in April 2021, conducted for the Annenberg Public Policy Center by SSRS, an independent market research company.
For the past 2.5 years, the policy center has been tracking the American public’s knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors regarding vaccination, COVID-19, flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other consequential health issues.
In terms of vaccines in general, 16% of respondents say that “increased vaccines are why so many kids have autism these days” up from 10% in April 2021. The survey asked if it is true or false that vaccines given to children for diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) cause autism, 12% incorrectly responded that is true, up from 9% in June 2021—a statistically significant rise. Most people (70%) correctly say that this allegation is false.
A small but statistically significant increased number of respondents also erroneously thought that receiving an influenza shot increases the risk of contracting COVID-19—9% said this is true, up from 6% in January 2023, although there is no evidence proving that.
An even higher percentage of people (12%) agreed that “vaccines in general are full of toxins and harmful ingredients like ‘antifreeze’,” up from 8% in April 2021. Only 73% correctly said that was false.
The same percentage (12%) of those surveyed, agreed with the statement that mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 “cause cancer,” up from 9% in January 2023. The number who believe this is false remained steady at 58%, even though there is no evidence of COVID-19 vaccines causing or accelerating cancer.
A longtime false belief—that the flu vaccine gives you the flu—was endorsed by 29%. Only three in 10 people (29%) think that is false.
Overall, the AAPC pointed out the declining belief that vaccines are safe. In the latest survey, 71% of respondents agreed that vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are safe, but that decreased sharply from 77% in April 2021.
In addition, only 63% said it is safer to get the COVID-19 vaccine than to get the disease COVID-19, a decline from 77% in November 2021. In fact, the number of people who say it is false to state that the vaccine is safer than the disease is up to 21%, more than doubling the 10% in April 2021.
Beliefs in the safety of individual vaccines range from 81% for the long-established vaccines for the seasonal flu and MMR to 50% for the vaccine approved in August by the FDA for pregnant women to protect their infants from RSV.
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