Most parents still have concerns about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines for children, and about three in 10 say that they will “definitely not” vaccinate their children against Covid-19, according a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Vaccine uptake has slowed among adolescents ages 12 to 17 in recent months. Only about half of parents say that their child in this age group has received at least one dose of vaccine, a share that has changed little since the fall, KFF found.
And among parents of younger children ages 5 to 11, about 29% say that their child has already been vaccinated or will be “right away.” But another third of parents of children in this age group say that they want to “wait and see” before vaccinating their child against Covid-19.
The latest KFF survey was conducted for two weeks in mid-November among a nationally representative sample of parents with children under the age of 18 in their household. The survey was conducted before the Omicron variant was detected and did not capture how this news may have affected views.
While most parents say that becoming infected with Covid-19 poses a bigger risk to their children than getting vaccinated, it’s clear that questions remain. Only about half of parents say that they are confident that Covid-19 vaccines are safe for adolescents and only about 44% of parents say the same for younger children, compared to about two-thirds (64%) who say the vaccine is safe for adults.
About six in 10 parents say that they don’t have enough information about the effectiveness, side effects or safety of the Covid-19 vaccines in children. In fact, more than one in six parents who have not yet vaccinated their children say that the need for more information, testing and research is the top reason they haven’t yet vaccinated their children against Covid-19, according to the KFF survey.
Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious disease, said that it’s common for parents to take a cautious approach when it comes to their children.
“Generally what we’ve seen throughout the years is that parents tend to be more careful with their kids than themselves,” O’Leary told CNN. “It’s one of those things that predates the pandemic. When you ask parents about their concerns, safety is almost always at the top, and they frequently say they don’t have enough information.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shared information about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines for children, including data that shows that serious side effects are rare. But parents’ trust in the CDC has dropped from 66% in July to 57% in November, according to KFF.
As expected, pediatricians are the most trusted source of information about vaccinations, with more than three-quarters of parents saying they trust their child’s pediatrician or health care provider “a great deal” or “fair amount.” Yet, fewer than half of parents said that they have talked to their child’s pediatrician about the Covid-19 vaccines, according to the survey.
O’Leary says that he has been “highly encouraging primary care providers to take a proactive approach” in communicating with parents about the Covid-19 vaccine.
“There is certainly a lot of information being shared,” he said, but even if pediatricians are sending information out in their email newsletters and text message reminders to get children vaccinated, it doesn’t mean parents will always read those messages or click the links.
Much of the slow uptake may be attributed to issues of access instead of hesitancy, O’Leary told CNN.
According to the KFF survey, about one in six parents said that they would have difficulty traveling to a place where their child could be vaccinated and one in five parents said they wouldn’t be able to vaccinate their child in a place they trust. This was especially true for Black and Hispanic parents, as well as those living in households with low income.
Yet, the broader political divide over vaccines is consistent in attitudes toward vaccinating children. Parents who were less likely to be vaccinated themselves were also less likely to vaccinate their children, including among Republican parents.
Republican parents were more likely than Democratic parents to say they would “definitely not” vaccinate their children against Covid-19 (50% vs. 7%), and they were also more likely than Democratic parents to say they did not have enough information on the safety of the vaccines in children. Also, most (61%) Republican parents said the vaccine poses a bigger risk to their children than becoming infected with Covid-19.
More parents are on the same page when it comes to vaccine mandates in schools. Two-thirds (67%) of parents with school-age children say that they do not want schools to require eligible students to be vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the KFF survey.
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The vast majority of Republican parents (92%) opposed a vaccine requirement for children in schools, while only slightly more than half of parents identifying as Democrats (55%) said they favored a vaccine mandate for students.
But the survey also found that children were more likely to be vaccinated if it was encouraged by their school.
About half of parents said their child’s school provided information about vaccinations, and 44% said that their child’s school had encouraged them to get their child vaccinated. Young children ages 5 to 11 were about three times more likely to be vaccinated if their school encouraged vaccination (28% vs. 8%), and adolescents age 12 to 17 were also more likely to have been vaccinated if their school encouraged vaccination (60% vs. 42%).