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What Factors Sway COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy in Parents of Young Kids?

Provider testimony will be key to addressing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in parents who have yet to get their kids vaccinated but are open to the possibility.

As of July 2022, the US has seen only 3.5 percent of kids ages six months to four years get the COVID-19 shots, underscoring deep COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among parents of young kids. The factors driving that trend range from little concern about contracting the illness to skepticism about vaccine safety, according to the recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

These findings come as families across the country battle a multi-front war against respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The COVID-19 vaccine is one tool against the triple-demic parents can use, the CDC said.

As of July 2022, 3.5 percent of young kids had received at least one dose of the two-part COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC report showed, with White kids being more likely to have gotten the shot than Hispanic or Black children. Kids from higher-income homes and with mothers with higher educational attainment were also more likely to have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine.

Another 59.3 percent were unvaccinated, but the parents reported they were open to vaccination (around a fifth said they definitely could get their child vaccinated, while another fifth said they were unsure).

And although White kids were more likely to have already gotten the jab, kids of color were more likely to have parents open to the shot in the future (83 percent of Asian kids, 61 percent of Black kids, 66 percent of Hispanic kids, and 53 percent of White kids). Said otherwise, the White kids whose parents were enthusiastic about the vaccine had mostly already gotten the shots.

Meanwhile, about two in five (37.2 percent) of unvaccinated kids had parents who were reluctant to vaccinate, CDC said. There were some geographic trends at play, with kids living in rural areas being both less likely to have gotten the shot and less likely to have parents open to vaccination.

But importantly, there were major differences in perceptions of the virus and the vaccine among parents who were willing and unwilling to get their children vaccinated.

Parents reluctant to vaccinate were less concerned about their child actually contracting COVID-19 than parents of vaccinated kids (20.8 percent versus 59.8 percent). Only 24.3 percent of parents reluctant to vaccinate agreed that vaccination was important, while only 7.1 percent said they thought the COVID-19 vaccine was safe.

Assuaging those concerns may be the job of the healthcare provider, the data suggested.

Parents who got their child vaccinated were more likely to say their provided recommended it compared to parents who were reluctant to vaccinate (62.7 percent versus 17 percent). Additionally, the analysis showed young kids were more likely to get vaccinated in the provider’s office than older kids or adolescents, who in many cases turned to the pharmacy to get the shots.

“The larger role of the medical home, and medical places in general, in the delivery of vaccines to young children underscores the need for provider recommendation for vaccination,” the CDC wrote in the report’s discussion section.

Provider testimony may be crucial for addressing the hesitancies that reluctant parents reported. Using empathic patient-provider communication, healthcare providers and pediatricians may review the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, as well as the risks for COVID-19 infection, especially as pediatric respiratory illness grips the nation.

“These findings indicate that a large proportion of unvaccinated children have parents who are open to vaccination; however, many parents had concerns about vaccine safety and had not received a provider recommendation,” the report authors concluded.

“A strong vaccination recommendation from a trusted health care provider, along with accurate information about the safety of COVID-19 vaccination, could potentially increase COVID-19 vaccination coverage among young children.”

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