(Reuters) - Opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates that became increasingly political during the pandemic appears to have spilled over to inoculations long required for school children in the United States, with many more adults now against them, according to a new survey.
Nearly three in 10 adults (28%) said parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey. That was up from 16% in a 2019 Pew Research Center poll conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, KFF researchers said.
Among parents of children under age 18, 35% oppose requiring those childhood vaccines, up from 23% in 2019, KFF found.
"School vaccine mandates are a public health tool that works, is safe, and increases vaccination rates to keep whole communities safe," said Dr. Adam Ratner, a pediatric infectious diseases expert from New York University Grossman School of Medicine, who was not involved in the survey. "We're at risk of losing that tool if this trend continues."
Most of those surveyed - 71% - still believe children should be vaccinated to attend public schools, the researchers reported.
Rising anti-vaccine sentiment, often fueled by misinformation, has led to U.S. outbreaks of once nearly eradicated measles in recent years. Routine immunization programs were also badly disrupted during the pandemic, health officials have said.
A measles outbreak in central Ohio has now sickened at least 77 children, including 29 who were hospitalized. Most were either unvaccinated or had received just one of two recommended doses of MMR vaccine, according to City of Columbus Public Health.
Measles is highly contagious and can cause serious complications including brain damage and deafness, and can be fatal.
"All you really need is one neighborhood or town where the vaccination rate drops significantly, and you can have preventable diseases starting to spread," Ratner said.
Opposition to required childhood inoculations was strongest among those who identified as Republican in the survey, with 44% now opposed to childhood school vaccine mandates, up from 20% before the pandemic. Among those identifying as Democrats, 88% still support school vaccine mandates.
Although childhood vaccine recommendations are made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, school immunization requirements are set by individual states.
Even with the growing opposition to requiring childhood vaccination for attending school, 85% of adults surveyed - and 80% of those who are parents - said they believe the benefits of MMR vaccines outweigh their risk.
The survey was conducted between Nov. 29 and Dec. 8, 2022, online and by telephone in English and Spanish among a nationally representative sample of 1,259 U.S. adults, KFF said.
(Reporting by Shawana Alleyne-Morris; editing by Nancy Lapid and Bill Berkrot)
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