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Vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases and is responsible for the complete eradication of smallpox and the great reduction in cases of measles, polio, and tetanus in many parts of the world. Despite overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations, a growing number of people in the United States and Europe are reluctant to receive recommended vaccinations or refuse them altogether. This has led to a resurgence of diseases such as measles in countries that were close to eliminating them. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) named vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten leading threats to global health, citing complacency, inconvenience in access, and a lack of confidence as the driving factors. A short time later vaccine hesitancy gained worldwide attention as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and countries like the United States had many citizens unwilling to take approved vaccinations against COVID-19 due to concerns about safety, side effects, or a general mistrust of the government.

Why do some people refuse to get vaccinated?

Although vaccine hesitancy may seem like a recent phenomenon that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, it had in fact been a growing problem in the years leading up to the pandemic. A survey of health care professionals in the U.S. in 2016 found that the vaccines families were most likely to refuse or request on an alternative schedule included vaccines for HPV, influenza, and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). The same survey found that some of the most common reasons families gave health care professionals for refusing vaccines or requesting alternative schedules included concerns over added ingredients, worry about side effects, and a fear of connection to autism spectrum disorder. The connection between vaccines and autism stems from a now debunked and retracted paper published in 1998. Although extensive research has shown, and scientific consensus states, there is no link between vaccines and autism, misinformation and conspiracy theories continue to be promoted by the anti-vaccination movement, sometimes called "anti-vaxxers". In fact, a survey released in 2020 found that the share of adults in the United States who thought certain vaccines cause autism in children increased from 2015 to 2019, with 10 percent of survey respondents believing this in 2019.

How often do vaccines cause injury?

It is true that vaccines, like any medication, can cause side effects. However, these side effects are mostly mild, and severe side effects, such as severe allergic reaction, are very rare. The United States has a system that ensures the safety of vaccines and accepts and monitors reports of adverse effects. For example, from 1988 to early 2021, there were 7,593 petitions filed seeking compensation for injury caused by the influenza vaccine and 197 petitions seeking compensation for death. Around 3,986 such cases ended in compensation, while 684 were dismissed. Nevertheless, it is important to note that just because compensation was rewarded, does not mean the vaccine caused the alleged injury, as a vast majority of such cases are the result of negotiated settlements.

Most people still believe in the importance of vaccinations

Although there has been a rise in the number of people who question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, most people still recognize their importance. As of 2019, around 84 percent of U.S. adults felt it was extremely or very important that parents get their children vaccinated, while only four percent said it was not at all important. However, the percentage of adults who believed this to be important has decreased over the last two decades. Similarly, there has been a decrease in the percentage of people who strongly believed they had personally benefitted from the development of vaccines over the past 50 years.


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