By Margaret Farley Steele
THURSDAY, Feb. 2, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- More than eight out of 10 Americans support mandatory measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination for children attending public schools, a new survey finds.
Despite some well-publicized opposition, this look at vaccination attitudes by the Pew Research Center finds that, overall, 88 percent of Americans believe that the benefits of the MMR vaccine outweigh any risks.
Nearly three-quarters of the more than 1,500 adults surveyed said they believe there are health benefits from the MMR vaccine. Two-thirds are also confident there's a low risk of side effects from the vaccine.
But the findings, released Thursday, reveal some differences related to age, race and education, said study lead author Cary Funk.
"In addition to parents of young children, this analysis finds that adults under age 30, blacks and people with lower knowledge about science topics see a higher risk of side effects or lower preventive health benefits from this vaccine," said Funk, Pew's associate director of research.
By contrast, wealthier Americans with knowledge of science are very likely to support school-based MMR vaccine requirements, the researchers found.
Funk said public health benefits from vaccines depend on very high rates of immunization, explaining it's important to understand which groups hold reservations about the MMR vaccine.
Among parents of young children, 52 percent with kids aged 4 or younger say the risk of side effects from the MMR vaccine is low, while 43 percent believe the risk is medium or high.
Adults without under-18 children, on the other hand, have more faith in the vaccine: 70 percent say the odds of side effects are low, while about 30 percent think they're medium or high, the survey found.
Similarly, three out of five parents with preschool-age or younger children say the preventive health benefits of the MMR vaccine are high, compared with at least 75 percent of parents with children ages 5 to 17 or older.
Attitudes toward modern science also affect views on vaccination.
"This survey looks in-depth at people's views about vaccines to explore which groups have more reservations about the MMR vaccine and whether or not those views are connected with people's trust in medical science," said Funk.
The researchers said they found it "striking" that parents of young children express more concern than others about the safety of the MMR vaccine. "Yet . . . they hold broadly positive views about medical scientists and their research on childhood vaccines," Funk said.
Groups less likely to back MMR requirements include people who've tried alternative medicine, the survey revealed.
As for the racial divide, 56 percent of blacks compared with 79 percent of whites say there are preventive health benefits from MMR vaccination.
Also, 44 percent of blacks versus 30 percent of whites are concerned that the likelihood of side effects is medium or high.
As for politics, Republicans and Democrats express roughly similar attitudes about MMR benefits and side effects. But political conservatives are more inclined than moderates or liberals to believe parents should have the final say on childhood vaccination.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of MMR vaccine -- the first dose at age 12 to 15 months, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.
According to its website, the Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan "fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world."