Survey Reveals Prevalence of Vaccine Misinformation


Survey results emphasize the value of educating full-time students with science- and health care-focused majors about vaccines.

Vaccine hesitancy, which is defined as delaying in accepting or a refusal to receive vaccines, has been making headlines this year as outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles are on the rise. As such, earlier this year the World Health Organization reported that vaccine hesitancy was 1 of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.

Most professionals in the health care and science fields accept that vaccines are both important to disease prevention, but also the safest and most effective way to stop the spread of preventable diseases. However, Lisa Cuchara, PhD, a professor of biomedical sciences at Quinnipiac University, notes that a basic internet search not only reveals vaccine hesitancy but also conspiracies about vaccines.

Therefore, Cuchara conducted a study with the intentions of examining vaccine knowledge (and myths/misconceptions belief) in the science and health care communities in comparison to individuals not in the community; determining if a curriculum decreases vaccine misconceptions; and determining which myths/misconceptions about vaccines are most prevalent.

The findings of the research were presented at ASM Microbe 2019.

For the study, data was collected from 17,229 participants through SurveyMonkey. In total, 5246 participants identified as full-time students in a science or health care major (HSS), 3221 participants identified as a full-time student not pursing a science or health care major (nonHSS), 2368 individuals reported being employed in science or health care (HCW), and 4361 individuals reported not working in science or health care (nonHCW).

According to the study abstract, the results reveal the prevalence of vaccine misinformation in society.

“For example, 67% has ‘HEARD that you can get the flu from the flu vaccine’ and 24% KNEW ‘someone that gotten the flu from the flu vaccine’ despite the fact that the virus in flu shot is killed/ cannot cause flu,” Cuchara writes.

Further, 36% of study participants either agreed or were unsure that “there is evidence that the mercury in the measles vaccine can cause autism” despite that fact that the measles vaccine never contained mercury. Additionally, 61% either agreed or were not sure if “mercury is a component in childhood vaccines.” Cuchara notes that Thimerisol (mercury), which was in some vaccines, was removed in 1998.

More than half of study participants (51%) either agreed or were unsure about natural immunity being better than vaccine immunity. Finally, 64% of participants agreed or were unsure that getting too many vaccines can overwhelm the immune system or lead to serious illness.

Cuchara notes that these numbers were statistically significantly more accurate for students with vaccines in their curriculum, which emphasizes the value of educating future health care workers about vaccines.

“Most (73% HSS; 76% non-HSS) ‘HEARD that you can get the flu from the flu vaccine’ indicating this myth’s popularity, but more (P=0.001) HSS (49%) than nonHSS (29%) correctly chose ‘I do not think that you can get the flu from the flu vaccine,’” Cuchara writes. “Similarly, 61% of HSS strongly agreed that ‘Not being vaccinated against puts other people at harm for that disease’ vs. only 39% non-HSS. The last 2 indicating that while HSS were better informed, we can still do better.”

The study, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All,was presented in a poster session on Saturday June 22, 2019, at ASM Microbe in San Francisco, California.

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