Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 02:33 pm
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) published, in December 2022, a review of COVID-19 vaccine attitudes, but it also examined public confidence in the MMR vaccine. What it shows what some of us have feared — the raging disinformation campaign has started to affect public attitudes toward other vaccines, like the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella.
Although MMR vaccination coverage has remained quite high (see below) despite the fears that reduced visits to the pediatrician during the pandemic may suppress vaccine uptake, there has been only a tiny downtick in vaccine uptake. But the KFF polling shows a concerning drop in public confidence in vaccines, especially the MMR vaccine.
This post will examine what the KFF polls showed with the COVID-19 and MMR vaccines. It’s interesting, and it continues to support what we have been observing with vaccines during this unprecedented pandemic.
Current status of MMR vaccine
As you can see in the graphic above, taken from the CDC vaccine coverage database, the uptake of the MMR vaccine took only a small dip in the 2020-21 school year, which was during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic, and the anti-vaccine nonsense being pushed, the uptake during that school year was 93.9%, which is just at the edge of providing a herd effect for the vaccine.
I was rather surprised at the robust level of uptake that all childhood vaccines were exhibiting:
All of the vaccines surveyed, DTaP, hepatitis B, polio, chickenpox, and MMR had coverage at around 94% and above. I am impressed.
I have to make one major caveat about these data — it’s only through the 2020-21 school year, so there may be lower numbers for vaccine uptake during the 2021-22 school year. That data won’t be available until later this year, so it might show a larger drop.
But now we have to look at the sobering information, uncovered by the KFF polling
KFF polling data
Let’s take a look at what their polling had to say about the MMR vaccine.
- 71% say healthy children should be required to get vaccinated for MMR to attend public schools, down from 82% who said the same in an October 2019 Pew Research Center poll. This is a serious dip in the support for the vaccine, and it could mean a significant dip in the number of kids who are vaccinated against measles
- 28% say that parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their school-age children, even if this creates health risks for others, up from 16% in 2019.
- As expected, among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, there has been a 24 percentage-point increase in the share who hold this view, from 20% to 44%. While deep blue states like California are making vaccine mandates more strict, deep red states may decide it’s politically prudent to make these vaccines optional for attending school. This could widen the gulf between red and blue states in healthcare quality and childhood mortality. That’s scary.
On the other hand, the KFF polling showed some signs of hope. It appears that most people think that the MMR vaccines benefits outweigh the risks (which are extremely rare, despite the false claims that the vaccine caused autism):
As you can see in the graphic above, about 85% of adults think that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. These are small reductions since a similar 2019 Pew Research poll. However, since 2019, support for the MMR vaccine increased among Democrats but dropped among Republicans, resulting in an 8% difference between the two groups in support of the vaccine.
Curiously, those who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine still support the benefits of the MMR vaccine, although not quite at the level that is seen in other demographic groups.
Anyway, it’s hard to tell if this will have an effect on future MMR uptake, it is concerning for a lot of reasons
- 17% of parents of children under the age of 18 think the risks of the vaccine (which, again, are minor) outweigh its benefits. If this holds and every one of those parents stops their children from getting the vaccine, the herd effect could be broken, leading to significant measles outbreaks, as we have recently observed in Ohio.
- 28% of parents think that vaccines should not be mandated. If we lose mandates, what might happen is that parents who are on the fence about vaccines but would have gotten them so their kids can go to school, will take the easier route and not get the vaccine. That was seen in California, which led the legislature to pass stronger vaccine mandate legislation.
But the above is some of the worst data from the KFF polling. Approximately 28% of Americans thought that parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for other children and adults. I cannot even imagine why anyone would want this — causing intentional harm by not getting the vaccine is beyond my understanding of morality.
What’s worse is that 44% of Republicans feel this way. Red states, dominated by Republican governors and Republican legislatures could vote out all school mandates.
Taken all of this together, I am extremely worried about the future of childhood vaccinations which could lead to outbreaks of these diseases. And as we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, most countries, the USA included, do not have the hospital capacity to deal with massive outbreaks of infectious diseases. A measles epidemic will be deadly and expensive.
As a scientist, I don’t buy into hope as a scientific or medical strategy. But right now, I can only hope that Americans suddenly become wise and decide that these childhood vaccines are safe and effective because it’s settled science.
Bonus — COVID-19 vaccine attitudes
Although much of the KFF report was about the COVID-19-19 vaccine, I intentionally focused on the MMR vaccine because it could lead to long-term problems with vaccine uptake. But there was one graphic from their COVID-19 polling that many of you will find interesting:
As you can see, 66% of Democrats have gotten or will get the updated COVID-19 booster — this is compared to 32% of independents and only 17% of Republicans. That is a wide gulf between these groups which may cause problems as we are seeing a new variant of the virus growing quickly in the population. Since I accept evolution by natural selection as a fact (supported by a literal mountain of evidence), we are self-selecting into two groups — vaccinated and unvaccinated, with the unvaccinated group more susceptible to hospitalization and deaths.
So, evolution is doing its thing. One group is better able to survive the pandemic while the unvaccinated group isn’t. There will be long-term demographic effects. of this inflection point in human evolution, and we’ll see what this means culturally and politically.
I’m proud of my receiving the original vaccines and three boosters. And even though I caught the Omicron variant, the vaccines kept the symptoms minor, kept me out of the hospital, and kept me from dying. Vaccines save lives.
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