By: Shahidah Khanom, GSAS Ethics and Society
In a recently published article in Vaccines, “Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy among Parents of Children under Five Years in the United States,” Celia B. Fisher, PhD and coauthors sought to explain the relationship between vaccine hesitancy and parental attitudes and beliefs about the Covid-19 vaccine for young children. Their work demonstrates the importance of community outreach and increased pediatrician attention to parental concerns in order to improve public health messaging and transparency regarding vaccine development and approval for COVID-19 in young children.
The study includes data collected from a national non-probability survey of 411 English-speaking, self-identified Hispanic and non-Hispanic Asian, Black, and White female guardians. Researchers chose to include only female guardians within their research model as female guardians were less likely to vaccinate younger children than males and are more likely to make healthcare decisions for their children. They chose mothers of children who were between the ages of 1-4, as children at this age were more likely to have routine pediatric vaccine regimens.
The 411 respondents were divided into three “intent to vaccinate” categories: (1) Resistant Parents, (2) Unsure Parents, and (3) Accepting Parents. Approximately 190 respondents (46.2%) said that they would definitely not or probably not vaccinate their child (referred to as “Resistant Parents”), 93 respondents (22.6%) said that they would probably or definitely vaccinate their child against COVID-19 (referred to as “Unsure Parent,”) and 128 respondents (31%) reported that they would vaccinate their child against COVID-19 (referred to as “Accepting Parents”)
Summarize below are prevalent themes that arose from respondents and their justifications for being either a resistant, unsure, and accepting parent in relation to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Findings: Themes of Pediatric Vaccination among
Resistant, Unsure, and Accepting Parents
Theme 1: Vaccine Safety Concerns
- The most frequent concern was vaccine safety amongst respondents. Approximately 53.8% of unsure parents and 46.2% of resistant parents indicated that they had concerns about the safety of the vaccine on their children. Other parents indicated that the development of the vaccine was concerning and its emergency authorization to be used.
Theme 2: Distrust in Government, Science, or the Pharmaceutical Industry
- Approximately 30% of resistant parents and 24% of unsure parents described a general distrust in the vaccine and that decisions by the government and pharmaceutical companies were politically influenced.
Theme 3: The Vaccine is Unnecessary
- Many of the resistant parents indicated that they thought the vaccine was unnecessary amongst children because the disease would present in its mildest form in children. Some indicated that it was better for children to build immunity naturally without the vaccine.
Theme 4: Child is Too Young
- Approximately 8% of the resistant parents and 17% of unsure parents believed that children were more vulnerable to the vaccine than the virus itself, or that a child at such a young age should not be exposed to the chemicals that are present in the vaccine.
Theme 5: The Vaccine Protects My Child and Others
- Accepting parents mostly believed that the vaccine would protect their child and others. More than half (66%) of the accepting parents believed that the vaccine would serve a protective measure against the virus.
- Most unsure parents (78.5%) agreed that the opinion of their child’s doctor would influence their vaccine decision, and their response to the survey item was more like the accepting parents’ (84.4%) than the resistant parents’ (40.0%). This finding suggests that while doctors can influence hesitant parents to vaccinate their children, they may not be as effective with resistant parents.
- Higher education level, household income, and financial security were associated with greater vaccine acceptance.
The findings of this study show how education, vaccination history, COVID-19 health beliefs, concerns about vaccination safety and effectiveness, and community and family support all influence parents’ intentions to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 in the context of a rapidly changing medical and social national context. The study’s findings have significant ramifications for public health messaging and physician-parent communication, which Fordham News elucidated in their coverage of Dr. Fisher’s study,
“The need to recalibrate messaging on vaccines is taking on more importance, as recent statistics indicate that a year after vaccines became available to children between 5 and 11, fewer than 40 percent of that population has received two shots of the COVID vaccine.“
The pandemic has altered the extent to which traditional sources of expertise influence parents’ vaccine decisions. The themes identified as primary reasons for hesitancy and opposition to pediatric COVID-19 vaccination indicate an increased need in clearer pediatrician-parent communication. Parental vaccine fears, while not new, are more prevalent in the post-COVID era, and health care professionals must communicate with and guide parents in making more informed health decisions for their children.
Fisher, C. B., Bragard, E., Jaber, R., & Gray, A. (2022, August 14). Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy among parents of children under five years in the United States. MDPI. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from https://www.mdpi.com/2076-393X/10/8/1313
Verel, P. (2022, August 25). Study reveals reasons for parents’ skepticism on vaccinating youngest against COVID. Fordham Newsroom. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from https://news.fordham.edu/politics-and-society/study-reveals-reasons-for-parents-skepticism-on-vaccinating-youngest-against-covid/