New vaccine poll probably accurate, but deeply flawed

A new survey shows strong support for new limits on a parent’s ability to opt out of childhood vaccinations, but it probably won’t do much to move the debate.

The poll was commissioned by Every Child By Two, a national nonprofit that supports vaccinations. It found that 68% of Vermonters do not believe there should be a philosophical exemption available to parents, and that 73% of respondents support changing state law to eliminate the philosophical exemption.

The poll results are probably an accurate reflection of public sentiment (the anti-vaxxer crowd is a noisy minority), but the poll’s value is greatly diminished by the wording of the questions. They almost constitute a push poll — a series of questions designed to elicit a predetermined response.

The first question is objective: “Do you believe that parents should be able to opt out of vaccinating their children for school for philosophical reasons, also known as personal belief exemptions?” 68% say no, 20% say yes, and the rest are unsure. That result is almost certainly valid.

But then the survey grabs respondents by the nose and leads them down a preset path. It brings up the recent measles outbreak centered in California and raises the possibility that it could spread to Vermont. It then highlights the danger to “people with compromised immune systems… for lack of a vaccinated population.”

Then, a leading question, “Now that you are aware that people with cancer and other medical disorders are at risk, are you more concerned about a person’s decision to vaccinate?”

After that comes the clincher: “Should children whose parents have opted not to vaccinate be allowed to attend public schools and licensed daycares, potentially putting other children at risk?” (Emphasis mine.)

The final question asks if you would now support a bill that would allow exemptions for medical reasons only, “and keep the same vaccination requirements as most other states“. (Emphasis mine.)

After all that, support for limiting the exemption rises from 68% to 73%, while opposition falls from 20% to 13%.

I agree with those who sponsored the survey: Vermont’s vaccination rates are falling, the bulk of scientific evidence supports the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and the potential loss of herd immunity poses a serious threat. In these circumstances, I believe we should end the philosophical exemption.  But this deeply flawed poll won’t help the cause.


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