The ongoing measles outbreak has sparked a national debate about vaccinations. The fear-mongering and paranoia surrounding this public health issue is reminiscent of the Ebola outbreak, except measles is much easier to avoid. There has been an effective vaccination against it for years. That hasn’t stopped families and individuals from potentially being exposed to the disease in public locations like Disneyland, where the outbreak began, and San Francisco’s BART system, where a diseased rider rode to and from work for three days. The debate about vaccinations has become what the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Henniger refers to as “politicized science” and what Bill Maher refers to as “A Conversation Worth Having.” As with any argument, there are two differing opinions and no consensus as to which side is correct.
The most common argument against measles vaccination is that immunization is linked to autism in children. Parents are skeptical about giving their children the shots that could protect them from contagious and deadly diseases out of fear that they might cause other problems. Those are understandable concerns, despite the fact that all scientific evidence suggests any perceived link between vaccines and autism is most likely entirely false.
The vaccination debate has existed for years, but it’s recently gained so much steam that it’s spilled over into the 2016 presidential race. Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — two of the leading GOP candidates — indicated that vaccinations should be voluntary and left to the parents’ discretion. They also, of course, both backtracked and explained that they support individual freedom despite not personally believing that vaccinations are inherently bad. The current president has a more rational outlook on the issue, saying “the science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”
In an effort to gauge how the American public feels about the issue of vaccination, we created a poll asking the following question: “Should parents be required by law to vaccinate their children?” The respondents were in overwhelming support of immunization legislation, with 67.6 saying “yes” and 32.4% saying “no.” 32.4% is a relatively high number to be in opposition, but the survey asked only whether vaccines should be forced by law and not whether they’re linked to autism or dangerous in other ways.
An interesting insight into the results of our survey is that women picked “yes” more than men. 76% of women were in support of laws requiring vaccinations, as opposed to 58.6% of men.
The results also showed that lower-income people were more likely to respond “no,” while higher-income people were more likely to respond “yes.” 100% of respondents making $150,000+ per year said “yes,” and 46.3% of those making $0-$24,999 per year said “no.”
Interestingly, the age group that was most likely to respond “no” was 18-24 year olds, although 60.4% of that population said “yes” compared to 39.6% who gave the opposite answer.
Despite the widespread misinformation both online and elsewhere, the majority of Americans are vaccinated against the disease. According to a CDC report from 2012, 91% of children ages 19-35 months had been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. 91.4% of adolescents ages 13-17 years had been vaccinated against the same diseases. Those that think the risks of vaccination outweigh the benefits are in the extreme minority, but their message has managed to reach and influence the national conversation at the highest level. As this poll shows, many Americans believe now is the time to get serious about public health and require vaccination by law.