December 19, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 332 — Low COVID-19 vaccination rates in children

A new report from Indiana University sociologist Jessica Calarco and Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Anderson sheds light on why the rate of COVID-19 vaccination among U.S. children is far lower than the rate of vaccination among adults.

Using data from the 2022 Parenting in Tumultuous Times Survey, which was conducted during the height of the Omicron wave, Calarco and Anderson found that three factors played a key role in parents' decisions not to mask or vaccinate their child.

First, the early reports during the pandemic expressed that children were at low risk of contracting and transmitting the virus, contributing to parents' ideology that there was a low threat to their children and generally healthy people.

Calarco says that most parents, even in the peak of transmission, were not concerned about the possibility of their children or household acquiring the COVID-19 virus. Only about 40 percent of all parents surveyed were either very or extremely concerned about the risk of COVID.

Second, parents had high-level concerns about the safety and effectiveness of masks and vaccines. Research, they say, shows that masks and COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Yet, misinformation has contributed to high levels of fear around the potential safety of masks and vaccines for children, says Calarco.

More than three-quarters of U.S. parents were at least somewhat concerned about vaccine safety. More than half were at least somewhat concerned about how masks might impact kids learning or academic achievement, social and emotional skills, language development, immune systems, and oxygen intake. More than two-thirds were at least somewhat concerned that kids would have difficulty wearing masks correctly.

Finally, there was a disengagement or lack of trust between parents and news sources. By January 2022, 40 percent of U.S. parents were following the news about COVID-19 less closely than they were in March 2020, and those parents who were following the news less closely were also less likely to vaccinate or mask their kids.

Researchers also determined that low rates of vaccination among children are driven in large part by the decisions of white mothers without bachelor’s degrees. Only 31% of those mothers reported having one child who is vaccinated or will be vaccinated as soon as possible, compared to 55% of parents overall. The mothers themselves are also less likely to be vaccinated than other parents, with only 39% vaccinated compared to 64% of parents overall.

Calarco says in general, U.S. women are more likely than men to be vaccinated, but the survey results showed how among parents of young children, stay-at-home-mothers are the least likely to be vaccinated.

This is in part because they were not subject to employer vaccine mandates, as many other parents were. Vaccines requirements may help to address low rates of vaccination among U.S. children. Despite the vaccine hesitancy and lack of concern about COVID-19, almost half of parents with unvaccinated children said they would vaccinate them if required to do so for school, childcare, or other activities.

Calarco says that, like with other routine vaccinations for children who attend school, COVID-19 vaccine requirements may be effective in achieving higher rates of coverage, which increases the effectiveness of vaccines. She says research has shown that mandates when put in place are highly effective.