Majority believes vaccinations are effective; but two-in-five say the “science isn’t clear”

Three-quarters of respondents call those who oppose childhood vaccinations “irresponsible”

Nearly nine-in-ten Canadians say vaccines are effective in preventing diseases – including measles, mumps and rubella – both in individuals and in the community. They are far less certain, however, about the clarity of the science of vaccinations.

The latest survey of Canadian adults from the Angus Reid Institute also reveals generational and regional differences among Canadian parents over whether vaccination should be mandatory among school-aged children.

Key findings:

  • Nearly nine-in-ten Canadians say vaccinations are effective at preventing disease for the individual who receive the vaccine (88%) and for the community as a whole (86%)
  • Three-quarters (74%) say people who oppose childhood vaccinations are “irresponsible”
  • Two-in-five Canadians (39%) agree that “the science on vaccinations isn’t quite clear”
  • While the majority (63%) of Canadian adults say vaccinations should be mandatory in order for children to attend daycare or school, this sentiment drops noticeably among parents of children under 18, and among respondents in Quebec
  • 83% of parents say they would definitely vaccinate their own children

Are vaccines effective?

While broad national opinion on the efficacy of vaccines to both individuals and the community is an unequivocal “yes”, demographics reveal slightly higher levels of skepticism, depending on where respondents live, what level of education they have, and how old they are.angus reid institute

  • Nationally, 88 per cent of respondents say vaccines are effective at preventing disease in individuals. This sentiment is highest in Atlantic Canada (94%) and lowest in Quebec (75%). National sentiment that vaccines are effective at preventing disease in the community is 86 per cent, rising to 94 per cent in Atlantic Canada and dropping to 71 per cent in Quebec.
  • There is a small but notable gap between respondents aged 18-34 and those who are aged 55+. While still majority sentiment, younger respondents are slightly less inclined to say vaccines are effective in preventing disease in individual (82%) and the community (83%) than older respondents (91% and 93% respectively).
  • A slight, but similar gap is noted among respondents based on education levels: 83 per cent of respondents who had completed high school or less say vaccines are effective, rising to 89 per cent among those who had completed some college or technical school, and 93 per cent among those who had a university degree.

Is the science around vaccinations clear?

On this question, opinions are more divided. Overall, two-in-five respondents (39%) agree that the science on vaccinations isn’t quite clear. Regionally, this opinion is strongest in Manitoba (48%) and Quebec (47%) and lowest in Alberta (32%) and Ontario (33%).

Less educated respondents (high school or less) are nearly twice as likely to agree that the science on vaccinations isn’t clear as those who are university educated (48% versus 27%).

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As to whether Canadians believe that the risk of “serious” side effects may accompany vaccinations, nearly three-in-ten (28%) feel this way nationally. Opinion is strongest in Quebec (35%) and among all respondents aged 18-34 (38%).

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Awareness and opinions of “anti-vaccers”

Love them or hate them, celebrity anti-vaccine advocates such as Jenny McCarthy have succeeded in capturing public attention and creating a so-called “debate” on the actual efficacy of vaccines in many facets of society.

Indeed, more than three-quarters of Canadians (77%) say they have seen, read or heard something in the news about childhood vaccinations lately (see detailed tables at the end of this report for further information).

Our survey results revealed Canadians have strong opinions when judging those who oppose childhood vaccination.

Three-in-four (74%) say people who are against childhood vaccinations are “irresponsible”. Ontarians take the hardest line on this (82%), Quebecers, less so, with 60 per cent saying the same; the lowest regional level of this opinion in the country.

Demographically, sentiment is again stronger among Canadians 55+ (83%) and the university educated (81%).

Vaccinations for children: mandatory, or parents’ choice?

The Angus Reid Institute survey canvassed opinion over whether vaccination should be a mandatory condition of children entering daycare or school. Attitudes on this issue are far less unequivocal than, for example, on the questions of whether vaccines work.

angus reid institute
Overall, the majority of respondents (63%) do say vaccinations for entry into school or daycare should be mandatory. This sentiment drops significantly to less than half (45%) among Quebec respondents. It is strongest among people in Alberta and Ontario (71%). Vaccinations for school attendance are currently mandatory in Ontario and New Brunswick, although both provinces grant exemptions in certain cases.

Expressed another way, parents in Ontario and Alberta are more likely to say vaccinations should be mandatory rather than the parents’ choice by a ratio of four-to-one. By contrast, Quebecers are almost evenly split on the issue (45% versus 43%).

What do parents say?

Among parents themselves – the age of their own children drives opinion on the issue of mandatory vaccination.

  • Among all parents, two-thirds (66%) support mandatory childhood vaccination
  • This opinion climbs to 71 per cent among parents of children over the age of 18
  • Support for mandatory vaccination decreases to 56 per cent among parents of children under the age of 18

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Notably, parents say they are much more likely to vaccinate their own children than they are to support mandatory vaccination.

When asked where they themselves stand on the spectrum of opinion, where “1” represented being totally against vaccinating and “10” indicated total support for vaccinating, the majority (67%) responded in the 9-10 zone, with a further 17 per cent choosing 7 or 8 on the scale. Ontario and Saskatchewan parents were most “pro-vaccinating” (77% and 75% respectively); parents in Quebec least so (49%).

Click here for full report including tables and methodology

Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey

Image Credit: Sanofi Pasteur

Posted February 13, 2015

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