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Fewer US evangelicals support public school childhood vaccine requirements, survey shows

United States

In what could be a sign of COVID-19’s influence, some sectors of US society – specifically white evangelicals and Republicans – are showing a growing aversion to the requirement that schoolchildren be vaccinated for illnesses like mumps and measles.

US attitudes to vaccines1

Overall, about 70 per cent of Americans say healthy children should be mandated to be vaccinated so they can attend public schools, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released om Tuesday. That is a distinctly smaller percentage from findings in 2019 and 2016, when 82 per cent were in favour of such requirements. The share of the US public who say parents should get to determine not to vaccinate their children is 28 per cent, an increase of 12 points from 2019.

“We are seeing a kind of marked drop in support for school-based childhood vaccine requirements,” said Cary Funk, Pew’s director of science and society research, in an interview. “That drop is particularly coming among Republicans as well as among white evangelical Protestants, many of whom are Republicans.”

The new survey shows that 58 per cent of white evangelicals say there should be a requirement for children attending public schools to be vaccinated, while 40 per cent say parents should be able to choose not to have their children vaccinated, even if that could cause health risks for others. Comparatively, in 2019, white evangelicals favored mandated vaccines for public schoolchildren by a margin of 77 per cent to 20 per cent.

Even though white evangelicals have a growing opposition to such requirements, they remain supportive of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, Funk said. The report notes that 82 per cent of white evangelicals who are parents of minors say their child has received such vaccines, close to the percentage of the share of all parents who say this (79 per cent).

Funk noted that being “inclined away from school-based vaccine requirements is different than saying that the vaccines themselves are not safe or effective.”

Americans overall express more scepticism about COVID-19 than MMR vaccines. While 88 per cent said benefits of those childhood vaccines outweigh the risks, 62 per cent said the same about COVID-19 inoculations.

Significant majorities across religious groups say the benefits of MMR vaccines outweigh the risks from getting them.

US attitudes to vaccines2

Eighty-seven per cent of Protestants overall say this, and more than eight in 10 of different kinds of Protestants agreed: 93 per cent of white non-evangelicals, 87 per cent of white evangelicals and 82 per cent of Black Protestants. Overall 89 per cent of Catholics held this view, with 94 per cent of white Catholics agreeing, as well as 83 per cent of Hispanic Catholics.

A higher percentage of the religiously unaffiliated – 91 per cent – saw benefits of MMR vaccines outweighing risks, with 96 per cent of atheists, 95 per cent of agnostics and 88 per cent of those who described themselves as “nothing in particular” holding this view.

Compared to white evangelicals, lower percentages of all other surveyed religious groups were in favour of parents being able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if such action would create health risks for others.

About two in 10 white non-evangelicals, Black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics held this view, compared to a quarter of white Catholics, 10 per cent of atheists and 18 per cent of agnostics. But 30 per cent of people who described themselves as nothing in particular agreed that parents should be able to make decisions about childhood vaccinations.

White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group surveyed that had fewer than half – 40 per cent – agreeing that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the risks. Other groups seeing benefits of the recent vaccines outweighing the risks ranged from 60 per cent of white non-evangelicals and those who are “nothing in particular” to 84 per cent of atheists.

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White evangelical Protestants, who were noted earlier in the pandemic for their vaccine hesitancy, stood out as the group that most reported not being vaccinated, at 36 per cent. The subgroups with the highest percentages saying they are fully vaccinated and recently boosted were atheists (52 per cent), agnostics (44 per cent) and Black Protestants (43 per cent).

Overall, 34 per cent of US adults are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and recently boosted, and 21 per cent had not been vaccinated.

The survey of 10,701 US adults was conducted online from 13th to 19th March and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points. The margin of error for the 1,669 white evangelical Protestants surveyed was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.


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