Imagine a world where you were supposed to decide whether or not to protect people against famine, war, or poverty when you had no idea what those things looked like.
That’s what is happening with vaccines.
While the vast majority of American adults support vaccinating children against once-eradicated diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, and smallpox, a growing number of young people feel the vaccines are unnecessary, and even harmful.
Here’s the problem: Unless you were born before 1963, you have no recollection of what the world was like when Americans were powerless against these now rare (but re-emerging) diseases. You don’t know what it would be like to lose a child from pneumonia he caught while sick with measles. You can’t imagine losing a newborn to mumps. In many parts of the world, these tragedies continue to be commonplace. But in America, they don’t have to be.
This inability to draw from lived experience may be related to the vast changes we’re seeing in how Americans see vaccines.
While 57% of US adults say childhood vaccinations should be required, with 32% saying parents should be able to decide whether or not their child should be vaccinated, a far higher share of young people (43% of Americans under age 30) say parents should be able to decide whether or not to vaccinate their kid.
This trend is likely related to a now-debunked study wrongly linking autism to vaccinations in young children (the study mistook correlation for causation, one of the most egregious errors in medical science).
Nevertheless, one out of five millennials still thinks vaccines can cause autism. That’s compared with the less than 3% of adults over the age of 65 who do.
Before the first licensed measles vaccine came out in 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans came down with the disease each year. In 1958, more than 750,000 cases were reported in the US. That number dropped sharply to around 22,000 cases in 1968.
While some people have suggested that parents with higher incomes and more education are more likely to refuse to vaccinate their children, the data shows far less difference in people’s views based on income or education compared with their views based solely on age.
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