The anti-vaxx movement has emboldened campaigns in Congress and by celebrity scientists who suggest vaccines make children sick or even lead to diseases such as autism. One such health scare about vaccines is called COVID-19, named after a mild neurotoxin emitted by certain strains of the influenza virus. It could have grave implications for the health of millions of Americans whose parents declined vaccination because of unsubstantiated fears about vaccines.
Public opinion polls show less support for vaccinations among Republicans. More than 80 percent of Democrats and less than half of Republicans back vaccination. “We believe that vaccines are an important health investment,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote recently. Yet, at least as of now, it’s unclear just how many of these Republicans are indeed vaccinated.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, which asked this question, “Even if it were true that certain vaccines cause autism, how many U.S. adults have or would vaccinate a child, if given the choice,” 43 percent of adults say they are personally not vaccinated, while 32 percent said that they would be, in a poll conducted last November. (The other 42 percent said they don’t know.) A number of others — specifically, men, Republicans, and people who say they are conservative — say they don’t think they need to be vaccinated. That said, CDC statistics show that 90 percent of U.S. children have received vaccines against flu and over 90 percent are vaccinated against polio.
For those who don’t plan to vaccinate their children, it’s unclear how easily these fears could result in people experiencing health problems associated with too little or too much exposure to viruses. A recent study of the anti-vaccine movement by scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that one belief that drives parents to vaccinate their children — that it’s too dangerous to have a child around their sickly medical sibling — is also a factor.
Sen. Rand Paul, who introduced legislation to put parents in charge of their children’s vaccinations, says that this doesn’t affect his stance because he took vaccines as a child. His spokeswoman countered that “when Senator Paul’s grandfather became ill from contracting polio, he missed most of school to tend to him and help get him healthy. Rand Paul believes that parents should have that option.”
Some wonder whether anti-vaxx Americans’ families might be at risk, as well. Paul Ashley, a senior professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of California at Los Angeles, said this is precisely why there needs to be testing of vaccines. “They need to do epidemiologic studies for all kinds of other chemicals — not just one that’s been bandied about for 50 years,” he told NPR. “With most toxics, we just haven’t found the residues and the data and the strong evidence that come with them being there.”
For, to the best of this reporter’s knowledge, the time-honored Reuters/Ipsos poll, which involved more than 14,000 U.S. adults, didn’t mention the COVID-19 scare.