America’s growing anti-vaxx crisis has been laid bare in a national poll that shows huge chunks of the country believe in conspiracy theories about safe shots.
One-quarter of adults said they believe the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism – a widely studied and discredited claim that emerged in the 1990s.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll also found that a third of adults believe that the Covid shots caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people.
Some 10 percent said the claim was ‘definitely true’ while 23 percent said it was ‘probably true.’
Vaccine skeptical movement across the country has intensified after the Covid pandemic, linked to skepticism about vaccine mandates and an increase in misinformation online.
The growing sentiment has seen figures like Robert F Kennedy Junior surge in polls campaigning on an anti-vaxx message despite being a fringe political figure for most of his years.
The survey, called the Health Misinformation Tracking Poll Pilot, was conducted from May 23 and June 12, involved 2,007 adults
In a podcast released last month, Mr Kennedy made one of his most sensational claims yet about vaccines, arguing ‘there is no vaccine that is safe and effective’
Over a quarter of participants also believed the Covid vaccines have been proven to cause infertility – despite no evidence the Covid shot impacts male or female fertility.
The survey, the Health Misinformation Tracking Poll Pilot, was conducted from May 23 to June 12 and involved 2,007 adults.
It looked at incorrect claims to do with Covid and vaccines, reproductive health and firearms. The most widespread misinformation claims were to do with Covid and vaccines.
Some 23 percent of the study participants also said the statement ‘the MMR vaccines have been proven to cause autism in children’ was ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ true.
Claims that shots can lead to autism have long been disproven and it is one of the most studied associations in medical history.
Multiple studies have not found any connection between vaccines and the developmental disorder.
The rise of concern about vaccines generally has led to a dip in childhood vaccine uptake, and since the start of the Covid pandemic, vaccination coverage for measles has been consistently dropping.
Measles is so contagious that around 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
MMR coverage was at just 93 percent nationally among kindergarteners in the US this year.
According to the CDC, a record high of almost 40 million children missed their measles vaccine in 2021.
This was put down to misinformation surrounding Covid vaccines which spooked parents, causing them to reject normal childhood shots, despite immunizations being the most effective way to protect children from measles.
The drop is a blow to worldwide efforts to eliminate the virus, leaving millions of young children vulnerable to infection and death.
In December 2022, a measles outbreak in Ohio saw more than 80 children contract the viral infection. Almost all the cases were in unvaccinated children.
The MMR vaccine is very safe. A 2000 study showed that the incidence of serious adverse events with possible relation to MMR vaccination of 5.3 per 100,000 people.
The disgraced British physician Andrew Wakefield who started the claim has been barred from practicing medicine in the UK.
His attributed his belief to a 1998 study he conducted, which linked autism to vaccines but has since been deemed fake.
On reproductive health, around a third of survey participants said they believed sex education would make teens more sexually active, and that the pill or IUDs make it more difficult for women to get pregnant.
Plus, almost a third of people said they believed the parasitic deworming medication ivermectin was ‘an effective treatment for Covid-19.’
The drug became infamous during the Covid pandemic due to claims by fringe medics that it might be a suitable treatment, and even a vaccination alternative, despite a lack of credible evidence.
Doctors have persistently said that there is no evidence ivermectin has any efficacy in treating or stopping Covid infections.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also never authorized the drug to treat the virus.
Even if participants did not believe in them, almost all those who participated in the survey had been exposed to the misinformation — 96 percent said they had heard at least one of the 10 claims from the survey.
There have been a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the Covid vaccine, a key one being the belief that the shot can cause myocarditis – an extremely rare complication that causes inflammation of the heart muscle – particularly in younger men.
When NFL safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during a Buffalo Bills match in January, antivaxxers put it down the Covid shot.
But leading doctors have dismissed the theory.
Two facts — both of which are widely misinterpreted — are central to the claims. One is that mRNA jabs, like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, can cause myocarditis. The other is that heart-related deaths are massively above levels seen pre-pandemic.
Cardiologists and heart health charities say conflating the two is not only incorrect, but irresponsible.
No drug is risk-free. And while there is a very small chance of developing myocarditis from a Covid vaccine, experts insist the benefits, in the form of the tens of thousands of lives saved, clearly outweigh any potential dangers.
Myocarditis can, in some cases, damage the pumping function of the heart, leading to disturbance issues later in life.
But an overwhelming majority of vaccine-induced myocarditis cases are mild, real world evidence shows.
Any such link between the Covid shots and increased risk of cardiac arrest experts would have spotted by now, given that the jabs — delivered to billions across the world — were first rolled out almost three years ago.
Infections, including Covid itself, can also trigger myocarditis. This, experts argue, is a point conveniently dismissed by anti-vaxxers.