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November 01, 2023

Confidence in vaccines falls as beliefs in health misinformation rise, Penn survey finds

More than 1 in 4 Americans believe immunizations are unsafe, and a growing number suspect they cause autism

Health News Vaccines
Vaccine Misinformation Mufid Majnub/Unsplash

A growing number of Americans believe misinformation about vaccines, including debunked assertions that they cause autism, according to a recent analysis conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

Americans' confidence in vaccines has declined as acceptance of misleading health information has grown, according to an analysis conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

A recent poll from the Annenberg Public Police Center found 71% of respondents believed vaccines approved in the United States are safe to use. That's down six percentage points from an April 2021 survey. 

At the same time, acceptance of vaccine-related misinformation has grown, according to the poll. For instance, 25% of participants said ivermectin, a medication for treating parasitic diseases, is an effective treatment for COVID-19. In September 2021, just 10% of Americans held the same belief. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said ivermectin should not be used to treat or prevent COVID-19.

The trends observed in the analysis are cause for concern because accurate information about vaccines is crucial for public health and safety, researchers said. Addressing these issues requires collective efforts from health organizations, experts and the public, they added.

"There are warning signs in these data that we ignore at our peril," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the survey. "Growing numbers now distrust health-protecting, life-saving vaccines."

More people also incorrectly believe vaccines may cause autism, a link that has been debunked. The poll found that 16% of respondents believed vaccinations are responsible for autism diagnoses in children – up from 10% in April 2021. 

And 12% of respondents said the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer, up from 9% last January. But there is no evidence that the vaccines cause cancer.

Less than two-thirds of respondents said it is safer to get vaccinated against COVID-19 than to contract the disease. That's down from 77% in November 2021. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COVID-19 vaccines are the best way to prevent the disease from causing hospitalizations and deaths.

The latest poll include more than 1,500 U.S. adults who were surveyed from Oct. 5-12. 

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