Half of Americans polled don't think vaccines cause autism

February 1, 2011

Half of Americans polled don't think vaccines cause autism. However, 18% are convinced that vaccines, like the MMR vaccine, can cause the disorder, and another 30% aren't sure, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll.

Fifty-two percent of Americans think vaccines don’t cause autism, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll. However, 18% are convinced that vaccines, like the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, can cause the disorder, and another 30% aren’t sure.

The poll was conducted after it was reported that the lead researcher of a controversial 1998 study linking autism to the MMR vaccine used fraudulent research to reach his conclusion. The poll also found that parents who have lingering doubts about the vaccine were less likely to say that their children were fully vaccinated (86%), compared to 98% of parents who believe in the safety of the vaccines.

Despite these responses, according to the poll, 92% of the children were fully vaccinated.

"This sounds like a cup half-empty/cup half-full story," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. He noted that while the number of people who believe in a connection between vaccines and autism is "only 18 percent," that nonetheless translates to  "millions and millions and millions of people, and it's clear that in some cases that has led them to not vaccinate their children."

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they had heard about the autism-vaccination theory, but only half (47%) knew that the original Lancet study had been retracted and that some of that research is now alleged to be fraudulent.

Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, which supports more research into vaccination safety, said, "Parents have legitimate questions about vaccine risks and want better vaccine science to define those risks for their own child. This concern long predated the debate about vaccines and autism. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was passed by Congress, in part, to address those concerns but has not done the job.”