The growing anti-vaccine crisis in the United States has been laid bare in a national poll that shows large portions of the country believe in conspiracy theories about vaccine safety.
A quarter of adults said they believed 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) survey also found that a third of adults believe that Covid injections caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people.
The nationwide vaccine skeptic movement intensified after the Covid pandemic, linked to rejection of Covid vaccine mandates and a rise in misinformation as people spent more time online.
Rising sentiment has seen figures like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. emerge in the polls campaigning on an anti-vaccine message despite having been a fringe political figure for most of his years.
The survey, called the Health Misinformation Tracking Pilot Survey, was conducted from May 23 to June 12 and included 2,007 adults.
In a podcast published last month, Kennedy made one of his most sensational claims yet about vaccines, arguing that “there is no vaccine that is safe and effective.”
The KFF poll showed that more than a quarter of participants also believed that Covid vaccines have been shown to cause infertility, despite there being no evidence that the Covid vaccine affects male or female fertility.
The survey, the Health Misinformation Tracking Pilot Survey, was conducted from May 23 to June 12 and included 2,007 adults. Examined incorrect claims related to Covid and vaccines, reproductive health, and firearms. The most widespread misinformation claims had to do with Covid and vaccines.
About 10 percent of those polled said the claim that Covid vaccines have killed thousands of healthy people was “definitely true,” while 23 percent said it was “probably true.”
In recent years, a conspiracy has emerged that Covid vaccines caused an increase in heart problems in healthy young people at the population level.
But data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that cardiac deaths among Americans under the age of 34 are similar to pre-pandemic levels.
Vaccines have been linked to a very small risk of myocarditis in young people, affecting about one in 30,000 people under the age of 40 after the second shot.
But cases are usually mild and resolve on their own without the need for medical intervention. A Covid infection is also more likely to trigger myocarditis than vaccinations. studies show.
About 23 percent of the study participants also said that the statement “MMR vaccines have been shown to cause autism in children” was “definitely” or “probably” true.
Anti-vaxxers have been spreading claims that shots can cause autism for nearly 25 years, but the link has been repeatedly disproven.
The disgraced British physician Andrew Wakefield made this claim in a 1998 Lancet study, now withdrawn.
Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, publicly described the research as “fundamentally flawed” in 2004, nine years after it was published.
Dr. Horton alleged that Andrew Wakefield, the gastroenterologist behind the article, received money from a group suing vaccine manufacturers.
The prestigious medical journal finally retracted the article in 2010.
Just three months after his article was withdrawn, Wakefield was banned from practicing medicine in Britain by the General Medical Council.
In 2011, the British Medical Journal conducted a damning investigation into the findings of Wakefield’s original study.
Their research found that only two of the 12 children included developed autism symptoms after being vaccinated, unlike the eight that Wakefield claimed.
Since then, studies involving millions of children have failed to find a link between the MMR vaccine and the neurodevelopmental disorder.
But increased concerns about vaccines during Covid have led to a drop in the adoption of childhood vaccines.
Measles is so contagious that about 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. But MMR coverage was only 93 percent nationally among kindergartners in the US this year.
According to the CDC, a record number of nearly 40 million children did not receive the measles vaccine in 2021.
This was blamed on misinformation around Covid vaccines scaring parents away from regular childhood vaccinations, even though vaccinations are the most effective way to protect children from measles.
In December 2022, a measles outbreak in Ohio caused more than 80 children to contract the viral infection. Almost all cases occurred in unvaccinated children.