About half of parents and adolescents across the United States are split on their attitudes and intentions toward getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a national survey by University of Iowa assistant professor Aaron Scherer.
On May 10, the Food and Drug Administration expanded its Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents aged 12 to 15.
Prior to the authorization, the group of researchers sent out non-probability-based surveys administered by the Healthcare and Public Perceptions of Immunizations (HaPPI) Survey Collaborative in April to assess parents’ and adolescents’ willingness for vaccination.
“In our survey, we found that only half of parents and adolescents reported intentions to get their adolescents or themselves vaccinated,” Scherer, assistant professor of internal medicine in the UI Carver College of Medicine, said. “Most people just wanted more information about how safe the vaccine was and how effective it would be for this age group.”
The online panel surveyed national samples of 985 adolescents aged 13 to 17 years and 1,022 parents of different adolescents aged 12 to 17 years, Scherer said.
Scherer said they recruited people through Qualtrics — an online survey platform — because they could collect all their data in one week, rather than the usual weeks to months. Scherer’s team also set up quotas on age, gender, race, and ethnicity so the samples were fairly representative of the U.S., he said.
The survey’s findings were published July 9 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which included results from the HaPPI Survey Collective that Scherer leads.
The researchers found that 27.6 percent of parents whose adolescents were already vaccine-eligible and 26.1 percent of vaccine-eligible adolescents — aged 16 to 17 years — reported their adolescent had received the COVID-19 vaccine, Scherer said.
Julie Fitzpatrick, a physical therapist from Iowa City, said her 13-year-old son is fully vaccinated because she chose to trust the science.
“My spouse and I got vaccinated as soon as we could because the pros of getting the vaccine weighed stronger against any uncertainty with the vaccine,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re going into it with the hope that what we are seeing for ourselves is going to be true for our kids.”
Scherer said the best way to increase the percentage of vaccinated adolescents is through recommendations from public health officials and health care providers.
“We know that a strong provider recommendation is one of the best interventions we have to improve vaccine uptake,” Scherer said. “We want to make sure health care providers and public health officials feel confident in the safety of vaccines so they can make those strong recommendations.”
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Natoshia Askelson, associate professor in community and behavioral health at the UI College of Public Health, said recommendations from these providers are necessary for more vaccinations.
“It’s clear across the country that vaccine campaigns aren’t going to be as effective as that one-on-one communication,” Askelson said. “Health care providers need to be supported in this effort so they can become really good at having these conversations with parents and kids.”
Scherer said it’s important for adolescents to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, in order to protect themselves and those around them.
“Younger people might not realize that the variants of the virus will affect people who aren’t vaccinated,” Scherer said. “Since younger people have been one of the lowest vaccinated groups, the virus is hitting them harder now, which is why it’s important for them to start getting vaccinated.”
As states lifted restrictions based on older populations receiving the vaccine, younger populations experienced a rise in cases, Askelson said.
In June, the CDC found COVID-19 adolescent hospitalization rates peaked at 2.1 per 100,000 in early January 2021, declined to 0.6 in mid-March, and rose to 1.3 in April.
These increased rates in Spring 2021 and the potential for severe disease reinforces the importance of vaccination, especially in adolescents, the report said.
“The risk to children and adolescents has been downplayed significantly over the pandemic, but now it’s clear that they are at great risk,” Askelson said. “Now is the time for them to get vaccinated, especially before they get back to school.”
Fitzpatrick said she is hopeful that her 10-year-old daughter will be eligible for the vaccine before school starts in August.
“It was a tough year for everyone with starting, stopping, and doing homeschool, and it was challenging for the teachers, kids, and parents,” she said. “If the vaccination can protect us and allow us to get back to normal school it would be great for everyone.”