Now that Americans ages 12–17 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we surveyed U.S. parents to learn more about their hesitations regarding vaccinating their kids. We found that while more than half of parents are hesitant about immunizing, 90% could be convinced with further data.
From facing illness and loss to learning and growing in an unfamiliar environment, children all over the world have experienced wide-ranging effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine brought a sense of relief — and protection — to millions of American adults in 2021, though parents were soon faced with another decision: Would they get their children vaccinated when it was their turn?
In early May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that all children age 12 and older are now able to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with similar authorizations underway for Moderna. While some parents rushed to schedule appointments for their teenagers, others have had reservations — which we explored in our latest research report.
To discover parents’ perceptions of immunizing their children against COVID-19, we polled 1,750 U.S. residents with children 17 years old and younger living at home with them.
With 16 vaccines currently recommended for children between birth and 18 years old, parents begin making decisions regarding their child’s immunizations from the start. The vaccination schedule created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet been updated to include the COVID vaccine, though the agency has officially recommended it for teens, and is likely to recommend it for younger children by the end of 2021. For many parents, though, a sense of uncertainty is preventing them from deciding whether to get their children the COVID shot.
When surveyed on their hesitations, parents were overwhelmingly concerned about effects the vaccine might have on their child’s long- or short-term health, including how it could affect puberty and future fertility. Recent studies from the Kaiser Family Foundation seem to mirror these apprehensions, with 26% stating that they would hold off on vaccinating their kids until more data on side effects is available.
Our data showed that although about 50% of parents believed that the COVID-19 vaccine was effective in protecting children, more than half were still reluctant to get their own children vaccinated, perhaps demonstrating the complexities of the hesitations at hand.
When it comes to convincing parents who are on the fence about COVID vaccinations, obtaining more data appears to be a major deciding factor. In a multiple-selection question, nearly half of respondents said they were waiting for more long-term data on vaccine effectiveness, while others said they would be reassured by knowing friends or family whose children were vaccinated without issue.
The rapid development of the vaccine may also be causing parents to pause. A study from late 2020 found that surveyed parents were concerned about how quickly the vaccine was made available and the limited amount of time spent on trials and testing. However, our survey data indicates that in most cases, further research and education — as well as time — could make an impact on those with existing concerns.
For parents who are leaning toward not vaccinating their children, a certain level of guilt comes into play. Sixty-four percent of parents said they’d feel at least somewhat — if not very — guilty about opting their kids out. However, the many hesitations our respondents reported appear to be outweighing guilt, as even parents who have been vaccinated themselves continue to grapple with making the same decision for their children. Most of our respondents also stated that they wouldn’t judge other parents for electing not to vaccinate, indicating a sense of understanding among parents making a difficult choice.
As schools and daycare centers temporarily closed in 2020, the pandemic forced many parents to make significant changes related to childcare and education. Over a year later, more than half of surveyed parents stated they’d be okay with an unvaccinated family member caring for their child, while they were slightly less comfortable with their children being taught in person by an unvaccinated teacher.
In our November 2020 study on vaccine perceptions in the U.S., 59% of respondents said they believed K–12 students should be required to get the vaccine. Today, 49% of parents said they’d be in favor of requiring vaccinations for students, perhaps reflecting the greater level of concern regarding long-term effects of the COVID vaccine for kids.
Outside of school, we found that many parents are eager for their kids to return to or continue with extracurricular activities, with just over half stating they’d be okay with their children participating in an activity with other children who were unvaccinated.
Education is a critical component of addressing vaccine hesitancy across all ages. The digital age has provided parents with more resources than ever, though the sheer volume of opinions, research, and even misinformation found online may contribute to a more difficult decision-making process. TV news was a preferred source for most of our respondents, though one in three are getting news from Facebook and one in four are finding updates on podcasts and Instagram.
While there are many sources being used to form an opinion, nearly one in five of our respondents said they still feel at least somewhat uninformed about COVID vaccines for kids, meaning there is still plenty of room for more education on vaccine safety and effectiveness.
As we look ahead into the second summer of the pandemic, many families will head out on vacation, though some will be booking their vaccinations first. More than half of respondents said they wanted their families or children to be vaccinated before traveling in the near future.
ummer and a new school year ahead, many parents continue to struggle with the decision to vaccinate their children. A third of parents expressed nervousness or a sense of caution about upcoming vaccine approvals for younger age groups, while most others said they felt a sense of hope or optimism.
Overall, our data shows that parents are challenged and influenced by a variety of factors when it comes to vaccinating their children against the virus, and that the choice is difficult for many. This combination of hope and hesitancy reminds us of the ongoing complexities introduced by the pandemic — and the hurdles yet to be overcome.
Using Pollfish, we surveyed 1,750 American parents in late May 2021 who have children ages 17 and younger living at home with them. The results represent post-stratified data, which adds survey weighting to age and gender demographics relevant to the census data from polled regions