Study: Growing Number of Parents Are Opposed to School Vaccination

One-third of parents are against requiring school vaccinations for their children against diseases like measles, mumps, and other childhood illnesses.

Key takeaways:
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    A new study found that one-third of parents think they should be able to keep their kids from getting routine school vaccinations.
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    Medical experts say the growing anti-vaccination divide has led to public health threats like the recent measles outbreak.
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    Studies show that much of the pushback against vaccination requirements is due to a growing “parents’ rights” movement.

Vaccinating children has not been a very controversial topic in the history of the United States. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic spread in early 2020, many parents' attitudes toward school vaccinations have shifted.

According to a new study, one-third of parents believe they should be able to opt their children out of routine vaccinations at school.

Three in ten say that parents should be able to choose not to vaccinate their school-aged children, even if this puts the health of others at risk. This is up from 16% in 2019.

During the pandemic, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care research group, has been sending out monthly reports on how people's feelings about COVID vaccines have changed. The polls have shown a growing political divide on the matter of vaccines.

Currently, political parties show a clear divide on the issue. About 88 percent of Democrats and liberal-leaning adults fully endorse child vaccine requirements at school, which is slightly more than the 86 percent in 2019.

Only 56% of Republicans say that healthy children should be required to be vaccinated in order to go to public school. This is a 23-point drop from 2019, when about 80% of Republicans agreed with this idea.

Though many Republicans are against school vaccination requirements, they are not necessarily against vaccines. Most parents (80%) believe the benefits of childhood measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines outweigh the risks. Only 17% of parents think that the risks of these vaccines are greater than the benefits.

Studies find that the push against child vaccination requirements is driven by the “parents’ rights” movement that grew in popularity amid the COVID pandemic.

"The talking point that has been circulated is the concept of taking away parents’ rights. And when you frame it that simply, it’s very appealing to a certain segment of the population. But what about the right to have your children be safe in school from vaccine-preventable diseases?"

Dr. Sean O’Leary, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases

The United States national response to COVID-19 began in early January 2020 under Donald Trump. By April 2020, 42 states had lockdown orders in place. Soon, protestors spoke out against business shutdowns and mask mandates. "Anti-vaccination" advocates challenged mask and vaccine recommendations, claiming those went against their freedoms as American citizens.

Medical experts say the growing divide is cause for concern, citing fewer vaccinations as leading to public health threats.

This news arrives amid a “tripledemic,” meaning there has been a surge in COVID, in flu, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) cases, all at once. This year has seen an especially large increase in RSV among children. So much so that recent reports have called for assistance in relieving the strain on hospitals across the country.

Most notably, there has been an increase in previously uncommon outbreaks across the United States.

The recent measles outbreak is the largest in the United States since 2019. At least 77 children under 5 have been infected by a small but growing measles outbreak in central Ohio. City of Columbus Public Health says that most of the individuals have not been vaccinated or have only had one of the two recommended doses of the MMR vaccine.

Just seven in ten adults (71%) believe that healthy children should be required to get vaccinated for MMR in order to attend public schools, down from 82% in a 2019 Pew Research Center poll.

Lunna Lopes, a senior survey analyst for KFF's Public Opinion and Survey Research team, told NBC News, "It was the controversies and the climate of COVID vaccines and the vaccine mandates that had an impact.”

Medical experts say more education around vaccinations may be the only way to improve the current anti-vaccination climate.

“There is not any kind of one-size-fits-all messaging that's going to do this. We need all hands on deck," Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at the Kent State University College of Public Health, told NBC.

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