In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms have helped spread this dangerous myth. Measles can kill.
The vaccination debate rages on in New Jersey, after lawmakers there failed to pass a bill that would have eliminated religious exemptions for public school-required vaccinations. Thousands protested the bill at the state capitol on Monday.
Lisa DeRogatis said she never vaccinated her three children. "I feel like this is a fascist overreach of the government and taking away religious and medical freedoms," she said.
A new Gallup poll shows a 20-year drop in vaccine support among all age groups. The steepest ages are 30-49, at 12%. But 86% of Americans still support vaccines, and say they are not more dangerous than the diseases they prevent.
"We're seeing a decline because of a rise in anti-vaccine misinformation coupled with political activities," said Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease specialist.
Five states have banned non-medical exemptions only, including New York, which eliminated its religious exemption last year after outbreaks that started in 2018. To maintain what's called "herd immunity," public health officials say vaccine rates need to stay above 90% to protect those who can't be vaccinated, including babies and those with compromised immune systems.R.J. Reinhart at Gallup:
Perhaps the most well-publicized and debunked claim of danger posed by vaccines is that they cause autism. Currently, 10% of U.S. adults believe vaccines cause autism in children, marking a modest increase from 6% in 2015. Nearly half, 45% do not think vaccines cause autism, up modestly from the 41% who said the same almost five years ago. And 46%, down from 52%, say they are unsure.
The more advanced an American's formal education, the more likely they are to say vaccines do not cause autism. The figure is 73% among those with postgraduate education, falling to 61% among those with a college degree only, 42% of those with some college and 28% of those with no college experience. Importantly, lesser-educated Americans are much more likely to have no opinion than to say they believe vaccines do cause autism. The percentage making the causal connection tops out at 12% among Americans with no college education, versus 5% of postgraduates.
There are also substantial partisan differences, with 55% of Democrats saying vaccines do not cause autism, compared with 37% of Republicans.