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Study finds most Americans strongly support vaccination requirements for K-12 students

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A new study suggests that most Americans overwhelmingly support requirements for a number of common vaccinations for kindergarten through 12th grade students—even the one for COVID-19.

An association between vaccination and public school attendance in the United States dates back to 1827, when Boston schools required students to be vaccinated against smallpox. In recent years, however, two groups—some parents of K-12 students and some policymakers—have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccines. More recently, opposition has spread to mandates that have been in place for decades.

Now, however, the first comprehensive assessment of U.S. public opinion about student vaccination has found that these views are not widely shared.

Support for vaccine requirements for K-12 students by those surveyed ranged from a high of 90 percent for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP); measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); polio; and chickenpox to a low of 68 percent for COVID-19. The other commonly mandated vaccines for students in public K-12 schools are for hepatitis and human papillomavirus (HPV), which 84 percent and 75 percent of survey respondents supported, respectively.

“Vaccinations are one of public health’s biggest achievements, but this does not mean that those who need them the most always get them,” said Dr. Simon Haeder, an associate professor of health policy and management, School of Public Health who conducted this study. “This was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, orders for pediatric vaccines and the number of pediatric vaccines administered in the U.S. declined markedly during the pandemic, and at least one study suggests that worldwide, these numbers have not yet risen to pre-pandemic levels.

Haeder said vaccine mandates for school-age individuals are especially effective, because this age group has fewer preventive visits and thus would be less likely to have access to preventive services like vaccines without such a requirement. The goal of high vaccination rates across an entire population remains important given the potentially devastating consequences of a disease outbreak.

“Vaccinations have been a political hot topic in recent years, however, and those who were the most vocal against them tended to get a lot of media coverage,” Haeder said. “This led policymakers to introduce bills at the state level to limit or eliminate vaccine mandates for students. We wanted to find out the true level of opposition across the country.”

For the study, funded by the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Program, Haeder developed an online survey that was completed by 16,461 respondents in the U.S. from January to April 2022. He used standard t-tests to assess and compare overall support for the vaccine requirements, then ordinary least squares regression to assess correlates of support and opposition to the various vaccination mandates.