20% of Americans Believe in a Vaccine Conspiracy

A report published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that 20% of the American public believe that doctors and the government know that vaccines cause harm, and yet they continue to inoculate children.

A report published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that 20% of the American public believe that doctors and the government know that vaccines cause harm, and yet they continue to inoculate children. 

The survey found that, of the 1351 participants, 69% had heard of this conspiracy theory, making it the most widely known medical conspiracy theory mentioned in the survey. Of the 1351 participants 20% agreed with the conspiracy, and 44% disagreed. Whilst it is of course good news that twice the number of participants rejected rather than endorsed the conspiracy, what is troubling is the 36% of the public that are sitting on the fence.

Vaccination rates are low across the western world compared to what they could be. And the levels of the purposely un-vaccinated continue to grow in the well off sections of the population who traditionally would have enjoyed good vaccine coverage. There are two large problems presented by this finding that 69% of the US population has heard of the vaccine-autism conspiricy, and that 56% either believe it or are sitting on the fence.

The first problem regards research from the University of Kent which suggests that the reading of anti-vaccine conspiracy details can reduce the likelihood of a patient getting a vaccine. It’s not a huge leap to go move from ‘reading about conspiracies’ to ‘hearing about conspiracies’. If this turns out to be the case we may find that, as the autism-vaccine debate springs back into public consciousness through the new generation of social media, we may find more people hearing about and being swayed towards these conspiracy theories.

The second problem is that a recent report suggested that pro-vaccine messages containing a barrage of facts, figures, and horror stories were more likely to turn those on the fence towards the anti-vaccine camp rather than the pro camp. So how are we to engage with the 36% on the fence, if the traditional style employed by health authorities has in fact been making things worse?

But worse still, the anti-vaccine 20% are likely to grow in size, as the middle shrinks in accordance with increased media coverage of the vaccine-autism conspiracy in line with the Kent researcher’s prediction that exposure leads to reduced vaccination rates.

With this flurry of recent research, how long will it be before we see the CDC and the EDCD changing tactics and releasing a new wave of pro-vaccine initiatives which take into account this recent research. That’s assuming they can think of one.


The study also looked at a number of other health related conspiracies:

  • Are US regulators preventing people from getting natural cures?
  • Did a US spy agency infect a large number of black Americans with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?
  • Does the government knowingly give autism-causing vaccines to children?
  • Does the government know that cell phones cause cancer but does nothing about it?
  • Do companies dump dangerous chemicals into the environment under the guise of water fluoridation?

The end results showed that 49% of participants agreed with at least one conspiracy theory. The study also revealed such insights as: of those who did not agree with any of the conspiracies, just 13% took herbal supplements, 35% of those who believed in 3 or more conspiracies took herbal medicine.

Is this all a scary though? Or a sign of a healthy and inquisitive culture?

Let us know what you think below!

Find the paper by J. Eric Oliver, PhD; and Thomas Wood, MA here.

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