It has been three months since the US licensed Covid vaccines for children under five, but uptake in this group has been extremely low. Meanwhile, Joe Biden said on Monday that the pandemic is ending, a message that could result in continued delay.
More than 1,400 children have died from Covid in the US, and at least 533 of those deaths have been in children under the age of five. according to to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That makes Covid one of the top 10 causes of infant mortality in the country.
However, only about 6% of children under the age of five have received their first vaccinations, according to data from CDC: lowest rate by far of any age demographic.
a recent to study clearly demonstrates that covid vaccines save children’s lives. A large study followed children ages five to 11 and found that Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine was effective in preventing infection and provided incredible protection against hospitalization and death.
So far, 1.19 million children under the age of five have received at least one COVID vaccine, a total vaccination rate of 6.2%. This age group became eligible for the vaccines on June 18, a year and a half after they were licensed for adults, but the researchers found that the vaccines pointed In two weeks.
About four in 10 children ages five to 11 are vaccinated, a rate that held fairly steady over the summer. By comparison, about three out of four adults are vaccinated.
Even as some children return to school, a time when many families visit their doctors, rates have slowly increased. The reasons have to do with doubts about the safety, efficacy and necessity of the vaccines, as well as limited access.
Also, many families say that federal advice on when and how to vaccinate children is confusing.
Hesitancy about the safety and efficacy of vaccines has been a major factor in the delay. Many families are concerned about the novelty, side effects and overall safety of vaccines, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in July.
“One of the most cited things was the feeling that the vaccine is too new, that there hasn’t been enough testing, especially for young children, and that more research is needed,” said Lunna Lopes, senior polling analyst at KFF.
There is also the “common theme of not feeling like your child needs you and just not caring about Covid-19 as a threat to your child,” Lopes said.
That’s largely because many parents have absorbed the message that Covid doesn’t affect children, said Jessica Calarco, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University who began tracking families’ attitudes toward vaccines in 2018. Parents reported hearing from mainstream media, national agencies like the CDC and parenting councils estimate that children are unlikely to get, spread, or get seriously ill from covid-19.
“That laid the groundwork for parents, especially white parents with kids who didn’t have pre-existing conditions, who didn’t have high-risk household members, to feel safe sending their kids back to school and daycare.” . Calarco said.
“However, the problem was that once parents accepted the idea that Covid was not going to seriously harm their children and that they were not likely to pass it on to others, many of them stopped following the news.” she said
Families told her they didn’t want to know if the level of risk was changing or if new variants were emerging: “‘If something bad is going to happen, I just don’t want to know.'”
The very belief that children are essentially exempt from Covid has led them to think that the vaccine is not necessary, he said. And many children have already had Covid at least once, so families believe they will be protected from their infection and that future illness will be mild.
More than half of parents believe the vaccine is a greater health risk than the virus. Even those who believe vaccines are safe for adults worry about their safety in children, according to a December 2021 KFF. poll.
But more than a quarter of families who have not yet vaccinated young children are not opposed, they just want to wait and see how implementation goes, Lopes said.
Vaccination mandates could change families’ sense of urgency and need to get vaccinated. More than a third, 40%, of parents whose children are not vaccinated now said they would get the shots if needed, Calarco said.
“If it was needed for school, for childcare, for activities, that would tip the scales for parents.”
Especially once pediatric vaccines move from emergency authorization to full approval, as they have for people ages 12 and 18 and older, with Pfizer and Moderna’s shots respectively, more day care centers, schools, and activity providers could add them to your list of requirements. vaccines for families, she said.
Very severe cases of covid among children are not as common as among adults, but some children still get sick from covid. Children under the age of two may be at particular risk of Covid, compared to older children.
almost the same number of children are being hospitalized now compared to this time last year during Delta Wave. The health system is also under pressure from the simultaneous reappearance of polio, parechovirus and a respiratory virus that can cause paralysis. In some places, pediatric intensive care units are Already complete.
And other facets of life, including school, can be disrupted by even mild illness as cases rise and few precautions, including vaccination, are taken.
While some parents are waiting to vaccinate their children, nearly half of parents surveyed by KFF said they would “definitely not” vaccinate their children under the age of five, and that resistance is even stronger among conservatives, with 64% of Republicans saying they will. do not vaccinate their children.
That has led to geographic variability in vaccines, with fewer than two% of young children getting vaccinated in Republican-led states. Florida, for example, does not recommend vaccinations for “well” children.
And families in rural areas are twice as likely to oppose pediatric vaccines against covid, according to a CDC report since March. Nearly 40% of rural parents said their pediatrician did not recommend vaccinations, compared to 8% of urban parents.
The perceived lack of urgency also shows up in some doctors’ offices.
Nationwide, of parents who talked to their doctors about vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11, four in 10 (15%) said they didn’t think their doctor would recommend the shots, according to the December KFF survey .
That also doesn’t necessarily mean the doctor advised against injections, Lopes said. And the majority, 70%, of families have not talked to their pediatricians at all.
“Oftentimes, they don’t actively ask their pediatricians for information about it, and then the pediatricians don’t actively provide information about it, so there seems to be a lot of silence,” Calarco said.
Physicians’ messages are important. Unlike adult vaccines, there have been no mass vaccination sites for young children. Older children have had vaccination clinics in schools, but younger children may not be reached. And most pharmacies will not vaccinate children under the age of three. Instead, the under-five release relies heavily on pediatricians and family physicians, because they have high levels of trust.
But that plan means that vaccination rollout will be longer and more complicated in this age group, including among health providers and families willing or eager to get vaccinated. Children under the age of five usually see the doctor every three, six or 12 months, depending on their age. That means families can wait up to a year to talk to their pediatrician about vaccinations.
There are also racial and socioeconomic disparities in access to vaccines. Almost helped by Black parents of unvaccinated children under five say they are concerned about needing to take time off work for their children to receive and recover from vaccinations, and about the same proportion of Hispanic parents say they are concerned about being able to vaccinate to his children. children in a place they trust, according to the KFF survey.
And not all pediatricians have ice-cold freezers to store vaccines, further compounding access issues. They may be wary of ordering the minimum number of doses if it is not clear whether families will want to receive them. Staff shortages have also affected doctors’ offices, making it difficult to hold vaccination clinics.
Amid messages from the White House that the urgency of the pandemic is fading and as funding for vaccines dries up, it could be even more difficult for families to understand why and how they should vaccinate their children.