Although 92 percent of US adults have already received a Covid-19 vaccine, the rate of vaccination among younger individuals is much lower, with only 39 percent of children aged 5 to 11 and 68 percent of teenagers aged 12 to 17 currently vaccinated, despite efforts by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and pediatric clinicians to increase vaccine uptake among these age groups too.
According to a new study led by the University of Southern California (USC), the main causes why so many children remain unvaccinated are parental concerns about the vaccine’s long-term effects and fears that parents will be deemed responsible if their children get sick after vaccination.
During the first Omicron variant wave between February and March 2022, when pediatric Covid-19 cases peaked, the researchers’ survey of parents in the nationally representative Understanding America Study revealed that 45 percent of parents considered that the Covid-19 vaccines’ long-term risks to their children’s health outweighed the risks of not receiving a vaccine.
“Parents’ hesitancy may be partly driven by apprehension about the vaccine, stemming from its rapid development and the use of newer techniques,” explained lead author Ying Liu, a research scientist at USC.
Moreover, 18 percent of parents argued they felt a heightened sense of responsibility if their children became sick after vaccinations. “People often exhibit a more cautious approach when making medical decisions for others, including their own children, than for themselves. Some tend to do nothing rather than vaccinate their child, even though such inaction could result in negative consequences,” Liu said.
These findings highlight the need to address parental perceptions of the safety and efficacy of the Covid vaccines by assuring them that the side effects are rare and mild, while the possible health complications from Covid-19 infections are far more common and severe.
Moreover, scientists and health officials should clearly explain that there is no evidence or plausible ways in which vaccines could affect children’s genetic makeup, while emphasizing the potential (and avoidable) negative outcomes from lack of action when delaying or foregoing vaccination.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.