An American Osteopathic Association (AOA) online survey of more than 2000 adults in the United States has found that approximately 45%, or 2 in 5, Americans say something have caused them to doubt vaccine safety.

Through the survey, conducted by the Harris Poll, 45% of respondants noted at least 1 source that caused doubts about the safety of vaccination. The top 3 doubt-causing sources were online articles (16%), past secrets/wrongdoing by the pharmaceutical industry (16%), and information from medical experts (12%).

This survey follows recent comments made by several celebrities, including actress Jessica Biel, who spoke out publicly against California State Bill 276, which sought to limit medical exemptions from vaccinations.

“From an evolutionary perspective, humans are primed to pay attention to threats or negative information,” said perinatal psychiatrist Rachel Shmuts, DO, in a prepared statement to AOA. “For some, it really might be that vaccines are viewed as the more salient threat.”

The survey also asked Americans to choose a statement that best represented their feelings about vaccine safety and efficacy. While the vast majority (82%) chose in favor of vaccines, 6% selected responses expressing serious doubt. An additional 9% said they were unsure.

According to osteopathic family physician Paul Ehrmann, DO, small margins can cause significant damage to public health if the doubts result in more unvaccinated people. Measles, for incidence, requires as much as 95% of the population to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.

While social media has helped spread misinformation about vaccines, it has not been effective for countering claims, even with scientific research, according to Shmuts. Confirmation bias, or the tendency to trust new information that bolsters existing beliefs and discredits information that challenges those beliefs, makes it difficult to convince someone vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary once they believe they are not.

Jeannette Y. Wick, MBA, RPh, FASCP, an assistant director of the Office of Pharmacy Professional Development at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in Storrs, indicated that vaccines should become a policy issue as a matter of safety.

“I think that people think of vaccines as a personal decision, especially people who are anti-vaxxers,” she said in an interview with Pharmacy Times. “And there are so many other things in society that could be a personal decision, but for the good of society we make them a legal decision: like wearing a seatbelt.”

The AOA recommends that prescribers not argue with their patients who may be against vaccinations, but instead, provide information and resources on the benefits and remain as a resource for any potential questions.  


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Reference

45% of American Adults Doubt Vaccine Safety, according to Survey [news release]. Published June 24, 2019. https://osteopathic.org/2019/06/24/45-of-american-adults-doubt-vaccine-safety-according-to-survey/. Accessed June 27, 2019.