(Pew Research Center/by Monica Anderson) California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation June 30 making it mandatory as of next July for children enrolled in public or private schools and day cares to be vaccinated, ending the state’s policy that allowed personal and religious exemptions to vaccine requirements. The new law, one of the strictest in the nation, comes after a measles outbreak in California infected more than 100 and prompted health officials to urge parents to properly vaccinate their children.
The outbreak and subsequent legislation has brought new attention to the anti-vaccination movement, vaccine safety and mandatory immunizations. Here are five facts about the issue:
1. A vast majority of Americans view childhood vaccines as safe. Roughly eight-in-ten U.S. adults (83%) say vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella are safe for healthy children, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year. Only 9% of the public say these types of vaccines are unsafe, while 7% say they don’t know.
2. Although majorities of all major demographic groups say vaccines are safe, some groups are more skeptical than others. Younger adults are more likely than older adults to believe vaccines are harmful. Some 12% of adults ages 18 to 49 say childhood vaccinations are unsafe, while only 5% of adults 50 and older agree. There are also differences based on race and educational attainment. Blacks (26%) and Hispanics (15%) are more likely than whites (6%) to say childhood vaccinations are unsafe. And 14% of those with a high school diploma or less believe that vaccines are unsafe, compared with just 6% of those with some college experience or more.
3. Roughly two-thirds of American adults support mandatory childhood vaccinations, but younger adults are more likely to say vaccinating children should be a parental choice. A Pew Research survey conducted in 2014 found that 68% of U.S. adults agree that all children should be required to be vaccinated, while 30% say vaccinating children should be a parental choice. These overall views have changed little since 2009, when 69% of the public said childhood vaccinations should be required.
Yet while opinions on this issue were similar across age groups in 2009, the 2014 survey shows that younger adults are more likely to support parental choice: 41% of 18- to 29-year-olds believe parents should have the right not to vaccinate their children, compared with only 20% of adults ages 65 or older. While there are no significant differences on this question by race, education, income or gender, a multivariate logistic regression analysis finds that more Hispanics tend to say vaccines should be required compared with non-Hispanic whites.
4. Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans or independents to say childhood vaccinations should be required. While similar shares of Republicans, Democrats and independents agree that vaccines are safe for healthy children, there are modest divisions on the question of whether or not vaccines should be required. Republicans (34%) and independents (33%) are somewhat more likely than Democrats (22%) to believe that vaccinating children should be a parental choice. In 2009, there were no differences based on party affiliation.
5. Only three states – Mississippi, West Virginia and now California – do not allow religious or personal exemptions to vaccines. With the new legislation, California will join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states that do not offer nonmedical exemptions for childhood vaccinations, according to a Pew Research analysis of state laws. In all, 46 states allow religious exemptions for childhood vaccines, while 17 states allow both personal and religious exemptions. In Maine, a bill that would have made it tougher for parents to obtain vaccine exemptions for their children was recently vetoed by the state’s governor. (Pew Research Center)