‘Not quite in the know’: Parents prove they find it difficult to sell COVID vaccine to teens

While the US is gearing up to introduce the COVID-19 vaccine for primary school children, its efforts to vaccinate teens who have been vaccinated since May are still not responding well.

So far, about half of children 12 to 17 years old are fully vaccinated in the United States, compared with nearly 70% of Americans age 18 and older. Pediatricians expect it will be even more difficult to convince skeptical parents of younger children to vaccinate their children. Many are concerned about the potential uncertainty about a new vaccine versus the low risk of serious illness that COVID poses to children.

Recent KFF poll found that 27% of parents of children 5 to 11 said they plan to vaccinate them “right away,” while 30% said they “definitely would not” get vaccinated for their children 5 to 11 years old. More than three-quarters of parents of children in this age group reported that they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that not enough is known about the long-term effects of the vaccine in children.

“I’m not entirely in agreement with everyone getting vaccinated,” said Tara Carrier, 42, a mother of four in Maryville, California, who chose not to vaccinate her three older children, aged 12, 14 and 16. plans to postpone vaccinations for her 10-year-old daughter.

Although she is fully vaccinated, Carrier said she will not vaccinate her children until she is convinced that the vaccine “is actually a protection and not something that will subsequently affect their body.” I don’t know yet what the answer can be, because the vaccine has not been used in humans for a long time. ”

Public health officials and leading experts are increasingly emphasizing that while children are at a lower risk of serious COVID disease, they are not at zero risk. Nearly 6.3 million children have tested positive for COVID and more than 580 have died, according to the data. American Academy of Pediatrics… A small percentage of people have developed long-term symptoms.

They also emphasize that vaccinating children is necessary to slow the spread of the virus to the wider population. Countrywide, more than 45 million people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID, and over 745,000 have died.

The FDA has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12 to 15. in Mayafter approval of the same image for teens 16 and older five months earlier. On Friday, the agency authorized a lower dose of the vaccine for children ages 5-11 in emergencies, and shots are expected to be available this week after approval by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In refining Pfizer’s vaccine for children and adolescents, the FDA said ongoing clinical research shows children and adolescents face a higher risk of COVID and its potentially devastating side effects than the rare reported side effect of the vaccine, including heart inflammation. in some countries. young people.

Nonetheless, California provides an insight into the challenges that healthcare professionals and pediatricians face as they try to convince parents across the country to accept new vaccines. The state is in the top quartile of the country for overall vaccination rates. from 72% vaccinated people 12 and older, according to the CDC. But behind this number lies huge differences between the older and younger age groups.

Statewide, only 59% of children 12 to 17 were fully vaccinated by October 24. In comparison, 71% of children between 18 and 49 were vaccinated by that date; 80% of residents are from 50 to 64; and 75% of residents are 65 and over.

In addition, adolescent vaccination rates vary greatly by region, another microcosm of the United States. While many of the wealthier metropolitan and suburban counties on the California coast have a vaccination rate of over 70% for children ages 12 to 17, several counties in the upstate are reported. less than a quarter of this age group are vaccinated.

Marine County is one of the state’s success stories. Relatively wealthy, clearly democratic and predominantly white, the county vaccinated 93% of children aged 12 to 17, according to the California Department of Health. This is more than double the vaccination rate for children aged 12 to 17 in the Madera rural district of the Central Valley; and that dwarfs the 16% of children aged 12 to 17 vaccinated in Modoc County in the mountainous northeast of the state.

When young teens became eligible for vaccinations in the spring, Marin County health officials set up two mass vaccination sites, “with fanfare, confetti and ribbon cutting,” said District Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. Families were impatient, and within 10 days, the county vaccinated half of the teenage population.

For more indecisive parents, Willis says, “pediatricians are critical.” Dr. Nelson Branco, a pediatrician in Larkspur, said his practice waited weeks before opening his own vaccination clinic. They checked the vaccine registry for their 4,000 patients between the ages of 12 and 17, identified 800 who had not been vaccinated, then sent out an email inviting them to one of their weekly clinics and calling with any questions.

“We found that many parents of teenagers really want their children to return to a more normal life,” Branko said. “We see the same thing with the parents of younger children. The question is when? not “Should I?” “

In a rural district like Madera, which has not voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter, low vaccination rates reflect factors that go beyond conservative political views, said Dr. Nicole Webb, a pediatrician at Valley Children’s Healthcare in Madera. Rather, many residents face logistical challenges that do not exist for Californians in the suburbs and cities, where a pharmacy or doctor’s office is a short drive or public transport ride away.

“I think it’s tempting to try to make global generalizations based on political or ideological blindness, but I think it’s actually much more difficult than in a place like this,” Webb said.

Even in counties reporting high teen vaccination rates, there are areas where pediatricians try to convince suspicious parents. According to the CDPH, Santa Clara County vaccinated 75% of children aged 12 to 17. But at her clinic in downtown San Jose, Dr. Amna Khan said most of her patients are stranded.

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is mostly Medi-Cal patients, and many of Khan’s patients are recent immigrants. “There are many reasons among my patients to distrust government and medicine in general,” Khan said. “This is not a political statement. It is distrust because of what they have heard from their family, church or neighbors. “

Often these conversations are a “difficult dance” in which Khan needs to navigate in a culturally sensitive manner and with the help of translators. Sometimes she is faced with a minefield of conflict between parents and adolescents, when arguments break out in the examination room between children who want the vaccine and parents who refuse.

According to pediatricians, no matter where parents raise their children, a common factor in their decision to get vaccinated or not vaccinated is concern for the safety of their child.

Parents lining up to vaccinate their children are worried about the COVID threat. Parents who are hesitant to get vaccinated worry about potential side effects of the vaccine. Somewhere in the middle are parents who don’t know what to think due to conflicting information they have received from social media or from friends.

Even among parents who have unconditionally vaccinated their children against other diseases, the COVID choice is not obvious.

“Parents are now saying,“ You know what? I don’t think this suits my child. I don’t think I’m going to make this decision, or at least I’m going to wait at least six months, maybe a year or maybe more, before I even consider this for my child, ”said Jessica Kalarko, a sociology professor at Indiana University who oversaw a group of moms in Indiana throughout the pandemic.

“They will say, ‘You know what, my child wears masks. We wash our hands. We are responsible for game dates. So the vaccine is simply not needed because we are doing enough and my child is healthy enough that he will probably be fine. ”

Doctors and public health officials say they regularly explain to parents that COVID is indeed hurting children.

“California alone has recorded more than 35 child deaths, and this is more than we see from the flu,” Dr. Erica Pan, a California epidemiologist, told reporters last week. “It’s just an unacceptable number of child deaths when such effective and safe prevention is available.”

COVID caused multisystem inflammatory syndrome in childrenis a potentially life-threatening condition in which the immune system attacks the body and interferes with organ function in more than 660 California children since March 2020, Pan said. Six died.

California plans to receive more than 1.2 million doses of a weaker version of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 in the first week the vaccine is approved for emergency use, Pan said. Pediatricians will be critical in government efforts to vaccinate children, along with school health clinics and community leaders’ home campaigns.

In Yuba City, pediatrician Dr. Mark Sawyer tells patients, “If you want to stop hearing about COVID on the radio and stop hearing about blockages and everything else, that’s it, that’s it. Just get vaccinated. “

This story first appeared in Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is the national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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