Misinformation about vaccine safety drives reluctance to vaccinate children, study finds

As of late September 2022, nearly 78% of U.S. adults but only 31% of children ages 5 to 11 had completed the primary set of vaccinations against Covid-19, according to health authorities.

In an open-access article published in the journal Vaccine, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania attribute that dramatic discrepancy in part to the acceptance of misinformation about the safety of vaccines in general and the Covid-19 vaccines in particular.

The researchers found that U.S. adult hesitancy to be vaccinated against Covid is associated with misbeliefs about vaccines in general, such as that vaccines contain toxins like antifreeze, and about specific vaccines, such as the fears that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism (false) and the flu vaccine increases your chances of contracting Covid-19 (there is no evidence of this).

However, those same concerns also predicted hesitancy to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11, even among those who had been vaccinated themselves.

“All of the misconceptions we studied focused in one way or another on the safety of vaccination, and that explains why people’s misbeliefs about vaccinating kids are so highly related to their concerns about vaccines in general,” said lead author and APPC research director Dan Romer. “Unfortunately, those concerns weigh even more heavily when adults consider vaccinating children.”

Misbeliefs about vaccine safety were a powerful predictor of the uptake of the Covid vaccines in adults from April to September 2021. For individuals who reported the highest level of belief in misinformation, only 40% had received the recommended doses of Covid vaccination by September 2021. On the other hand, for those who reported the lowest level of belief in misinformation, 96% had reported receiving the vaccines.

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