Survey Finds Support for Vaccine Opt-Out Laws

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Feb. 13, 2015 — More than 1 in 4 adults think it’s OK not to vaccinate kids for religious or personal reasons, a new survey from WebMD shows.

“The WebMD Survey on Measles Vaccinations” found that percentage is even higher among parents with young children. The survey found 40% of those with children under age 12 agree that it’s OK not to vaccinate for personal or philosophical reasons. These parents are also less likely to agree that vaccines are safe or to think of unvaccinated kids as a threat to others.

“The current measles outbreak has shown us how quickly a disease can spread. Measles and other diseases such as pertussis and meningitis can have devastating outcomes; vaccinating children is the best protection available to prevent these serious illnesses and to stop the spread,” says Hansa Bhargava, MD, a pediatrician and medical editor at WebMD.

“While it seems that parents want to respect the choice not to vaccinate a child, there are consequences to these decisions, and we’re seeing that the cost to kids is high,” she says.

The findings come as a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland has continued to spread across the U.S., igniting a debate about the rights of parents to refuse vaccines for nonmedical reasons.

Public health officials say laws that make it too easy for parents to opt out have weakened the nation’s collective protection against preventable infections, like pertussis and measles. As a result, those diseases, which were once thought to be vanquished in this country, are making a comeback.

In some states that have been hard hit by the return of these infections, like California, Oregon, and Washington, legislators have already taken steps to make it tougher for parents to turn down the shots, requiring proof that parents have received education about vaccines before they can opt out.

And last week, California State Sen. Richard Pan, who is also a pediatrician, proposed a bill he co-wrote that would end vaccine exemptions for personal beliefs altogether. Pan said he’d consider the idea of an exemption that would let parents refuse the shots for religious reasons.

The survey findings suggest that the California bill and similar efforts could meet significant resistance.

Other Interesting Results

Among the notable findings from the survey:

  • Overall, 35% of adults responding say parents should be allowed to opt out of vaccinating their kids for religious reasons, while 26% think it’s OK to refuse vaccines on personal or philosophical grounds.
  • Among parents of children younger than 12 years of age, 43% think it’s OK to opt out of vaccines for religious reasons, while 40% agree that parents should be allowed not to vaccinate based on personal beliefs.
  • Only 69% of parents with younger children say unvaccinated kids pose a health threat to others, compared to 81% of parents with children over the age of 18.
  • Nearly 25% of parents with young children feel it’s unreasonable to keep unvaccinated kids out of school, compared to 16% of parents with grown children, and 14% of childless adults.
  • Among all those who responded to the survey, 42% agree that all FDA-approved vaccines are safe, while 43% feel most are safe.
  • Eighty-three percent of parents with grade school-aged children say they’re following the vaccination schedule recommended by their doctor, while 14% say they’re getting their kids vaccinated on their own schedule. According to the CDC, 1 in 12, or about 8% of children in the U.S. don’t get the first dose of the MMR vaccine on time.

The WebMD Survey on the Measles Vaccinations was completed by 1,197 randomly served WebMD site visitors (58% desktop, 42% mobile) from January 30 – February 12, 2015. The sample represents the online population with a margin of error of ± 2.8% at a 95% confidence level.

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