Tracy Russell, executive director of Nurture KC, appears during a video briefing Friday by the University of Kansas Health System. Russell says a finding from a new poll about vaccines “flies in the face of what we’re hearing from the Statehouse.” (Kansas Reflector screen capture from University of Kansas Health System video)
TOPEKA — A new poll commissioned by a Kansas City family health organization found 95% of people in the state’s most populous areas believe wellness vaccines are safe and effective.
Tracy Russell, executive director of Nurture KC, says the poll’s findings provide a sharp contrast legislative debates built around a vocal minority who spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
A majority of Kansans support the Kansas health secretary’s authority to determine childhood vaccination requirements, and they reject the idea of adding philosophical objections to vaccine requirements, as the Legislature did during the special session in November. However, 93% of the poll respondents are in Kansas City, Wichita or Topeka, raising questions about whether their views reflect those of the state’s rural population.
Russell said vaccines have been a pillar of public health, and the poll shows that still resonates with Kansans.
“That really flies in the face of what we’re hearing from the Statehouse from some very vocal groups,” Russell said.
Lawmakers in recent weeks provided hearings on bills championed by anti-vaxxers. They include a proposal to block the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment from adding COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations required for public schools or child care.
Public Opinion Strategies, a national pollster, conducted the survey of 600 voters, including 288 who answered questions online, between Jan. 27 and Feb. 3. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4%.
Respondents were 52% female and 48% male, and evenly divided among age groups and education levels. They were 43% Republican, 25% independent and 28% Democrats. They include 40% from Wichita, 38% from Kansas City, 15% from Topeka, and 7% from the rest of the state.
The results show 96% of Republicans, 95% of independents and 98% of Democrats believe wellness vaccines are safe. Similarly, 97% of Republicans, 95% of independents and 100% of Democrats believe wellness vaccines are effective. The poll found 85% support the KDHE secretary’s authority to set vaccine policy and oppose transferring that authority to the Legislature.
Additionally, according to the poll results, most people are getting their information about vaccines from doctors and health care providers.
“I was a little nervous in terms of are we going to see huge margins of people getting most of their information via the internet,” Russell said. “That didn’t pan out in this poll. It still remains, those healthcare providers are the most trusted source for this information.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show 60% of Kansans, including 70.8% of adults, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The virus has killed more than 7,900 Kansans in the past two years.
Russell revealed the poll findings Friday during a daily video briefing by the University of Kansas Health System. Her organization, which receives funding through a federal grant, serves pregnant women and their families in areas of Kansas City that have the highest rates of infant mortality.
Stephen Lauer, pediatrician at the KU Health System, said he was encouraged by the results.
“Much of the messaging we’re hearing now is from a very small vocal group that gets a, well, kindly put, a bunch of misinformation in front of people,” Lauer said.
People “believe what they don’t see,” Lauer said.
“What they don’t see is smallpox, polio, measles, H flu, meningitis, pertussis, all the diseases that their grandparents lived in fear of,” Lauer said.
Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the KU Health System, said we are 50 years removed from polio and other once-common diseases because of the success of vaccines.
“We understand that sometimes there are bad results from a vaccine, right?” Stites said. “Those occur. They’re incredibly rare. But I tell you, polio is a lot worse. And measles, mumps and rubella — those are really bad diseases. And I think we’ve lived in this age where we forgotten it sometimes, because we don’t see it.”
Stites said it would be helpful to explore more opinions from the 25% of the state’s population that live outside of Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka.
“We know there’s been more vaccine hesitancy in rural Kansas than there has been in urban Kansas,” Stites said.
Clarification: In correspondence after publication of this story, Nurture KC said some residents in the Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka markets live in rural areas, and the 93% of survey participants from those markets corresponds to the percentage of the state’s total votes in the 2020 presidential election.
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