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UMass Chan researchers explore parents’ attitudes toward pediatric COVID-19 vaccines

By Susan E.W. Spencer

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

November 22, 2021

Nearly four out of 10 parents surveyed in June said they wanted their child to be vaccinated against COVID-19, while slightly less than a third were unsure and almost one in four did not want their child to receive the vaccine, according to an ongoing analysis of opinion data by researchers at UMass Chan Medical School.

“The strongest predictor of whether a parent intended to vaccinate their child
seemed to be the parent’s vaccination status. If the parent was vaccinated themselves,
they’re much more likely to say they would vaccinate their child,” said Dr. Epstein.

The analysis, led by Mara Meyer Epstein, ScD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and the Meyers Health Care Institute at UMass Chan, explored attitudes toward children’s COVID-19 vaccination in a subset of 281 parents from among approximately 1,700 individuals who had participated in an earlier broad-based COVID-19 vaccine opinion study on the Prolific online survey platform led by Kimberly Fisher, MD, and Kathleen Mazor, EdD.

The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for adolescents ages 12 through 15 in May 2021, a month before the parents’ survey was conducted, expanding authorization granted for people ages 16 and older in December 2020. Emergency use authorization for children ages 5 through 11 was granted in late October 2021.

“The strongest predictor of whether a parent intended to vaccinate their child seemed to be the parent’s vaccination status. If the parent was vaccinated themselves, they’re much more likely to say they would vaccinate their child,” said Dr. Epstein.

“Also, parents who had received a flu shot the previous year were twice as likely – 62 percent versus 30 percent – to intend to vaccinate their child against COVID-19, compared with parents who had not received a flu shot,” she said.

Epstein added that there were trends, although they weren’t statistically significant, showing that women were a little less likely to intend to vaccinate their children, and that Black parents were two times more likely than white parents to report not intending to vaccinate their child.

Dr. Mazor, professor of medicine and associate director of the Meyers Health Care Institute, has been studying vaccine attitudes with Epstein and Dr. Fisher, associate professor of medicine. She said, “That’s not inconsistent with some other survey results showing that women tend to be a little bit more likely to be hesitant than men to be vaccinated themselves. And not surprisingly, what people think of for themselves and for their children are pretty tightly related.”

Common themes emerged among respondents depending on their vaccination intentions.

Parents who intended to vaccinate their children tended to say they wanted to protect their child and make sure that people in the community who couldn’t get the vaccine would be protected, according to Epstein. They also believed the vaccine is safe, while parents who were more hesitant wanted to wait for more data.

Epstein said that among parents who didn’t intend to vaccinate their children, themes were noted around vaccine safety questions or believing that children were not at risk for COVID-19.

There were also many parents in the middle, who were unsure about vaccinating young children or said that their child was too young. Mazor said it was unclear whether that was because the vaccine wasn’t yet authorized for children younger than 12 at the time of the survey or whether they felt their children were too young, whether or not they would be eligible for the vaccine.

Mazor and Epstein said that the pediatric vaccine has one important advantage over adult vaccination: The vaccine is likely to be available in pediatricians’ offices right away and pediatricians are used to talking to parents about vaccinations.

Adults, in contrast, have been mainly directed to large-scale vaccination sites and retail pharmacies to get vaccinated. Adult care providers typically don’t have the vaccine readily available when patients come in for a visit. Previous research has shown that people are less hesitant to get the vaccine when a trusted messenger such as their primary care provider explicitly recommends it. And, having the vaccine immediately available is convenient for patients.

Epstein and her co-investigators are preparing to submit a paper on these analyses for presentation at a conference in spring. They will continue to study this sample population’s attitudes and behavior around vaccination with additional surveys.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
LISTEN: What does it take to persuade people to get vaccinated against COVID-19?
UMass Chan students team up with Worcester to vaccinate kids against COVID-19