: Will you vaccinate your kids against COVID-19 once they’re eligible? Only half of U.S. parents say yes

United States

Despite public-health experts’ forecast that herd immunity against COVID-19 will require vaccinating children, new polling suggests only half of parents are currently on board with getting their own kids vaccinated.

Fifty-two percent of U.S. parents of a child under 18 say they’re likely to have their kid get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available for their age group, according to the latest installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index. Republican respondents showed the greatest resistance to pediatric vaccination, Axios reported.

In contrast, 71% of respondents overall said they had either already been vaccinated (47%) or were likely to get the vaccine as soon as it was available (24%). The poll, conducted April 2 to April 5, used a nationally representative sample of 979 U.S. adults.

A similar pattern emerged in a separate survey conducted from March 7 to March 12 by the family advocacy organization ParentsTogether: Though 70% of parents said they had already received or planned to receive the coronavirus vaccine, just 58% expressed a willingness to “probably or definitely” vaccinate their kids.

In that survey, which included responses from 971 ParentsTogether members, Black and Hispanic parents were more likely than white parents to say they were unsure about inoculating their kids against COVID-19, as were parents from low-income households compared to those from high-income households.

“The path to higher vaccine acceptance is clear: Parents need more education and information to make them comfortable before deciding to vaccinate their child,” the survey report said. “Parents report anxiety about unknown side effects as their top concern, say they want to know more about the research, and need more evidence of the vaccine’s safety.”

Knowing someone who has received the vaccine also made survey respondents twice as likely to say they would vaccinate their own child, the survey found — suggesting there’s “tremendous value in making those who are getting vaccinated more visible.”

As of Monday, 32.4% of the total U.S. population had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 18.8% had been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccines currently under emergency-use authorization in the U.S. are made by Pfizer PFE, -0.63% and BioNTech BNTX, +1.54% (for individuals 16 and older), Moderna MRNA, +2.79% (for individuals 18 and older) and Johnson & Johnson JNJ, -0.02% (also for individuals 18 and up).

Trials to test the vaccines’ safety and efficacy in children are now underway. Pfizer and BioNTech said in late March that a Phase 3 trial of their vaccine in participants aged 12 to 15 demonstrated 100% efficacy and “robust” antibody responses, surpassing previous results seen in vaccinated trial participants aged 16 to 25. 

Pfizer and BioNTech also said they had dosed the first healthy children a week earlier in their global Phase 1/2/3 study aimed at evaluating the two-dose vaccine in kids aged six months to 2 years, 2 to 5 years, and 5 to 11 years. 

From May 21, 2020 through April 1 of this year, 284 children in 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico and Guam died from COVID-19, according to data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, translating to about 0.06% of total COVID-19 deaths in those locations.  

Some 14,179 children had been hospitalized as of April 1 in the 24 states (plus New York City) that reported age distribution of hospitalizations, representing 2% of total hospitalizations in those locations.

While children appear to represent a small fraction of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, experts say vaccinating them will be important, particularly given the potential for more dangerous virus variants to emerge and the possibility of complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare but potentially fatal condition linked to the coronavirus.

Studies have also found that children of color make up disproportionate shares of child coronavirus infections, mortality and MIS-C cases. 

The U.S. has never reached herd immunity from natural infection with a novel virus; so far, vaccination has always been required. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease doctor and President Biden’s chief medical adviser, has offered an array of estimates for what share of the U.S. population would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity — but emphasized that it’s difficult to pin down a concrete range.

About 22% of the U.S. population is younger than 18, according to the Census Bureau.

“I think we should be careful about wedding ourselves to this concept of herd immunity, because we really do not know precisely for this particular virus what that is,” Fauci said during a Senate committee hearing last month. “I have been saying lately … and it’s purely an estimate — 70 to 85% of the population. If it is that, we would probably have to get more children. And I believe as we get high-school students vaccinated in the fall, we’ll be able to reach that.”

While experts still don’t know “what that magical point of herd immunity is,” Fauci added, “we do know that if we get the overwhelming population vaccinated, we’re going to be in good shape.”

“We ultimately would like to get, and have to get, children into that mix,” he said.