Childhood vaccination rates fall as unfounded fears rise

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To the dismay of ACSH and others devoted to public health, childhood vaccination rates fell significantly in 2009, and the latest National Public Radio-Thomson Reuters Health Poll indicates that unfounded fear is the major source of this decline. Childhood vaccination rates against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) fell nearly 3 percentage points in 2009 from the year before: Almost 10 percent of American children are not vaccinated from serious diseases, which include diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis despite evidence of recent recurrences of some of these once-feared contagions, including epidemics of mumps and whooping cough, and a measles epidemic in California that killed 10 infants.

Overall, about a quarter of all respondents to the poll had concerns about the safety or value of vaccines: 21 percent of respondents still believe that vaccines are somehow linked to autism; amazingly, 7 percent felt there was a link between vaccines and diabetes.

Unfortunately, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, these persistent fears stem largely from bogus claims dating back to Andrew Wakefield s fraudulent assertions and even before. Wakefield s 1998 Lancet article linking vaccines to autism has long been discredited, but a lot of parents continue to believe it. The problem is that autism usually manifests itself at about the same time that childhood vaccines are given. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support any correlation. What parents fears are causing them to overlook, says Dr. Ross, are the risks of not having their children vaccinated.