Vaccination Rates Among Children May Be Impacted by Safety Concerns

Vaccines reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization, but a recent study suggests that misinformation could make adults hesitant to vaccinate children 5 to 11 years of age.

Many US adults are reportedly hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccination because of misinformation about the vaccine. These misbeliefs, such as the belief that the vaccine contains antifreeze, that it causes autism, or can even increase COVID-19 susceptibility, led researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania to suggest that this vaccination hesitancy could impact the vaccination of children 5 to 11 years of age.

According to the study, primary vaccinations among US adults are 47% higher than vaccinations among children 5 to 11 years of age. If misinformation was greater, the research found that vaccinations were generally lower.

“All of the misconceptions we studied focused in one way or another on the safety of vaccination, and that explains why people’s misbeliefs about vaccinating kids are so highly related to their concerns about vaccines in general,” said Dan Romer, lead author and APPC research director in the press release. “Unfortunately, those concerns weigh even more heavily when adults consider vaccinating children.”

From April to September 2021, vaccinations among the most skeptical US adults sat at 40%, compared to 96% among those who were not skeptical. But in January 2022, only 55% of participants were “very likely” to recommend children in this age group getting vaccinated. Researchers set out to find why adults, even those vaccinated against COVID-19, were less willing to support vaccinations for children 5 to 11 years of age.

APPC used data taken from a national probability survey that was conducted by independent research firm SSRS. SSRS surveyed more than 1600 US adults over 4 waves in April, June, and September 2021, and January 2022. Participants were surveyed on their knowledge of COVID-19 vaccines and were asked about their beliefs and behaviors. Among participants, 31% were vaccinated in April 2021, increasing to 71% in September 2021.

The APPC team found that misinformation about vaccine safety, as well as safety misconception, made vaccinated parents reluctant to vaccinate their young children aged 5 to 11 years.

One of the most common misconceptions suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine could cause infertility in maternal-aged women, but this belief is not proven, according to the FactCheck.org project by APPC. Additional safety concerns about the vaccine include the false belief that it could change an individual’s DNA, may cause allergic reactions, is more dangerous than contracting SARS-CoV-2, and it can cause death. There is no evidence proving that the vaccine causes death.

“Concerns about vaccine safety are clearly a powerful predictor of reluctance to vaccinate oneself and children,” said co-author Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, in the press release. “It is easy to understand why adults would be particularly concerned about adverse reactions, impacts on the DNA, the potential fertility of children, and the possibility that a vaccine might contain toxins or cause autism. Allaying these unwarranted concerns should be a public health priority.”

Reference

Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Misinformation about vaccine safety drives reluctance to vaccinate children, study finds. EurekAlert! October 3, 2022. Accessed on October 3, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/966638