Just a month after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized covid-19 vaccines for very young children, the prognosis that large numbers of them will receive the vaccines seems bleak, according to a new survey of parents released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has monitored attitudes toward vaccines throughout the pandemic.
Most of the parents surveyed said they considered the vaccine to be a greater risk to their children than the coronavirus itself.
For children in the age group 6 months to 4 years, parental apprehension has so far resulted in barely a trickle of Covid vaccines being administered. As of June 18, when they became eligible, only 2.8 percent of those children had received vaccinations, the foundation recently found in a separate analysis of federal vaccine data. By comparison, 18.5 percent of children ages 5 to 11, who have been eligible for Covid vaccines since October, had been vaccinated at a similar point in their vaccine launch.
The new survey found that 43 percent of parents with children under 5 said they would “definitely not” vaccinate them. Some 27 percent said they would “wait and see,” while another 13 percent said they would vaccinate their children “only if necessary.” Even some parents who have been vaccinated against covid said they would not give permission for their younger children.
The new analysis of parents’ views comes as uptake of the vaccine for older children has slowed markedly. To date, only 40 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have been vaccinated. In the new survey, 37 percent of parents said they would “definitely not” get a Covid vaccine for their children in that age group.
Parents’ main concerns were the possible side effects of the vaccine, its relative novelty, and what they felt was a lack of sufficient research. Many parents said they were prepared to let their children risk Covid rather than get a vaccine to prevent it.
Childhood vaccination experts said they were alarmed at parents’ hesitancy, at a time when Covid-19 cases are soaring again and expected to worsen during cold weather months, and the possibility of new infections remains. potentially more dangerous coronavirus variants.
Although the vast majority of children who get Covid outgrow it easily, “some children get very sick and some children die,” said Patricia A. Stinchfield, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. She was not involved in the Kaiser study.
How a child with Covid will fare is unpredictable, added Ms. Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner who coordinated the administration of vaccines for Children’s Minnesota, a system of children’s hospitals in St. Paul and Minneapolis. “We don’t have a marker for that,” she said. “Half of the children who contract severe covid are healthy children, with no underlying conditions. So the idea of saying ‘I’m going to skip this vaccine for my son, we’re not worried about covid’ is really taking a risk.”
This latest report is based on a June 7-17 online and telephone survey of 1,847 adults, 471 of whom had a child under the age of 5. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points for the entire sample, and plus or minus 8 percentage points for parents with a child under 5 years of age.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the partisan divide was especially sharp around vaccinating children, with Republican parents three times more likely than Democratic parents to say they “definitely won’t” vaccinate their children.
Most parents said they found the federal government’s information about the vaccine for their children confusing. However, 70 percent said they had not yet discussed injections with a pediatrician. Only 27 percent of parents considering the vaccine said they would make an appointment to have that discussion.
Parents who might be willing to vaccinate their children against Covid said lack of access was a major barrier, a concern expressed by more black and Hispanic parents than white parents. About 44 percent of black parents were concerned about taking time off work to get their children vaccinated or to care for their children if the children had side effects. Among Hispanic parents of young children, 45 percent said they were concerned about finding a reliable place for vaccinations, and about a third feared having to pay a fee.
Ms. Stinchfield said she understood their concerns: her own daughter had to take time off work to vaccinate Ms. Stinchfield’s grandchildren, ages 1 and 3. Mrs. Stinchfield went to a clinic with them. “The message to the clinics is that the vaccine for children is available at night and on weekends,” she said.
Did your grandchildren have any side effects? No, Mrs. Stinchfield said with a smile. “They felt so good that we put them in a little kiddie pool,” she said. “And now my granddaughter has a tan line from the injection band-aid on her leg.”