NPR logo After Measles Outbreaks, Parents Shift Their Thinking On Vaccines

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After Measles Outbreaks, Parents Shift Their Thinking On Vaccines

Most of the people who got measles in last year's outbreaks hadn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. i

Most of the people who got measles in last year's outbreaks hadn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. Photo illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Photo illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Most of the people who got measles in last year's outbreaks hadn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine.

Most of the people who got measles in last year's outbreaks hadn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine.

Photo illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Nothing like a good measles outbreak to get people thinking more kindly about vaccines.

One third of parents say they think vaccines have more benefit than they did a year ago, according to a poll conducted in May.

Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015 i
Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015
Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015
Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015

That's compared to the 5 percent of parents who said they now think vaccines have fewer benefits and 61 percent who think the benefits are the same.

Vaccine safety also got a boost, with 25 percent of parents saying they believe vaccines are safer than they thought a year ago, compared to 7 percent of parents who think they're less safe. Sixty-eight percent didn't change their minds.

The numbers came from a poll of 1,416 parents around the country conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

So far this year 178 people have come down with measles, and many became infected after visiting two Disney theme parks in California, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those people were not vaccinated.

Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015 i
Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015
Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015
Credit: NPR, Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2015

Even though the Disney outbreaks got wide attention, 2014 was actually worse for measles, with 23 outbreaks including 383 cases among unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. In both 2014 and this year, measles is thought to have been brought to the U.S. by unvaccinated travelers.

Polls typically find that people's opinions change very little in the course of a year, according to Matthew Davis, a pediatrician who directs the C.S. Mott poll. "These numbers are incredibly high, and suggest that parents are hearing about the outbreaks and responding."

Doctors should know that parents' opinions can change relatively quickly, Davis says, though in his medical practice, he still sees parents with a wide range of beliefs about vaccine safety.

"It's important for the medical community to realize that parents care deeply about their children's well being," Davis told Shots. "And that is reflected in a wide range of opinions about vaccination."

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