Science

Anti-vax activists, protest Washington, DC
Anti-vax activists protest in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Brett Davis / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After many years of consistently supporting mandatory vaccines for healthy children attending public school, Republicans now feel very differently.

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The number of Republicans who believe that parents should decide whether they want to have their kids vaccinated, even if that means endangering others, has surged this year, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released today. As a result, there was a sharp decline in Americans who believe that healthy kids attending public schools should be required to receive vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Americans had a consistently positive view of these vaccines, and mandatory vaccinations for school children enjoyed broad bipartisan support. From 2016 to 2019, that support held steady at 82 percent. In each year, the number of respondents who identified as Republican or “lean Republican” was 79 percent, while the figures for Democrats were only slightly higher at 83 and 86 percent, respectively. 

Now, however, the support for mandatory vaccinations for healthy kids attending public schools has cratered. Only 57 percent of Republicans now share the same view while the number for Democrats has held steady at 85 percent. 

“[Doctors are] not very credible because, again, that’s the personal opinion of the doctor,” one participant in the survey, an unnamed young woman from Arizona, said. “So if this doctor believes in it and this doctor doesn’t, and you go see this doctor and I go see this one, then we’ve got two different information. Everybody has, like I said, their formed opinions.”

Among all adults, the figure supporting mandatory MMR vaccines fell 12 points to 70 percent.

These numbers reflect the changing attitude of Republicans towards vaccinations sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

GOP lawmakers, as well as commentators on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, had stoked concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines. 

This, combined with an opposition to mask mandates, is seen as a main reason why many more people in Republican areas died from the virus than elsewhere.

According to the survey, the decline in GOP support overall for mandatory MMR vaccines mirrors that of White evangelicals. This year, 58 percent of them backed required vaccinations — a 19-percent drop from 2019. 

Overall, Americans are more skeptical of the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines than of childhood vaccines. While they believe by a margin of 62 percent to 36 percent that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the risks, that figure is much higher when it comes to MMR vaccines. 

In that case, 88 percent of Americans say the benefits outweigh the risks. 

It should also be noted that among many respondents even people who did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine believe in the benefits of childhood vaccines.

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