How misinformed vaccine beliefs affect policy views

While there is broad support in the United States for pro-vaccination policies, as many as 20% of Americans hold negative views about vaccines. Such misinformed vaccine beliefs are by far the strongest driver of opposition to pro-vaccination public policies—more than political partisanship, education, religiosity, or other sociodemographic factors, according to new research from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC).

The findings, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, show how misperceptions about vaccination have the potential to shape public policy. The study is based on an APPC multi-wave panel survey of 1,938 U.S. adult respondents conducted in 2019, during the United States’ largest measles outbreak in a quarter-century.

The researchers found that belief in a group of negative misperceptions about vaccination:

  • reduced the probability of strongly supporting mandatory childhood vaccines by 70%,
  • reduced the probability of strongly opposing religious exemptions by 66%, and
  • reduced the probability of strongly opposing personal belief exemptions by 79%.

“There are real implications here for a vaccine for COVID-19,” says lead author and former APPC postdoctoral fellow Dominik Stecula, an assistant professor of political science at Colorado State University. “The negative vaccine beliefs we examined aren’t limited only to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, but are general attitudes about vaccination. There needs to be an education campaign by public health professionals and journalists, among others, to preemptively correct misinformation and prepare the public for acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Stecula was on a team of APPC researchers that included former APPC postdoctoral fellow Ozan Kuru; Dolores Albarracín of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who is an APPC distinguished research fellow; and APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson.

Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.