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Parent Perceptions of Child Vaccinations and In-Person Schooling

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU
June 2, 2021

With vaccines against COVID-19 recently approved for children as young as 12, and with the fall 2021 school year approaching, parents are making decisions regarding vaccinating their children and sending their children back to in-person schooling. A recent Virginia Department of Emergency Management COVID-19 Hesitancy Poll, conducted by the Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in April 2021, shows that a majority of parents in Virginia are willing to have their children vaccinated. In addition, a majority are willing to send their children back to in-person schooling in the fall.

Data for this poll was obtained by telephone interviews with a representative sample of 907 adults, ages 18 or older, living in Virginia. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline and cell phone. A minimum number of 100 surveys each were conducted with specific demographic groups including Hispanic respondents, Black respondents, and each of three age brackets (64 and older, 36 to 64 and 18 to 35).

When asked if they were likely to have their children vaccinated, 66% of parents in Virginia with children aged 12 to 17 said that they were likely to do so, and 63% of parents with children aged 11 and under said that they were likely to do so. While parent vaccination hesitancy had a significant impact on their views about vaccinating their children, with over 90% of parents who stated they were unlikely to get themselves vaccinated also showing hesitancy to vaccinate their children, parent race and ethnicity had no significant impact.

Willingness in Virginia is higher than willingness in nationwide studies. Data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation during the same time period (April 2021) showed that about 30% of parents with a child age 12 to 15 would get them vaccinated as soon as possible, with about 25% saying that they would prefer to wait and see how the vaccine was working in children. 18% said that they would only have their children vaccinated if the school required it, and about 25% said that they would definitely not have their child vaccinated. As was the case in Virginia, the personal vaccine hesitancy of parents was a strong indicator of hesitancy for child vaccinations.

When asked if they were willing to send their children back to in-person schooling in the fall, 73% of parent in Virginia said that they would be willing to do so.

However, the data also show that minority parents are two to three times less willing to have their children return to in-person schooling in the fall. 32% of African American parents did not want to send their children back to in-person school, as did 34% of Asian parents and 26% of Hispanic parents. In comparison, only 12% of white parents did not want to send their children back.

“The willingness of a substantial majority of parents to have their children vaccinated seemingly attests to the belief of the availability and efficacy of the vaccines, however, the almost triple numbers of hesitancy in African Americans (32%), and Asians (34%), then whites (12%) to send their children back to in-person school reflects the historical skepticism,” said former Governor L. Douglas Wilder.

Of parents who were not willing to have their children return to school in person, the most popular alternative was a full virtual instruction option with 51% of parents preferring this choice. 41% of parents stated that they would prefer to have a hybrid option that offered both in-person and virtual instruction options.

Some parents stated that they would be more willing to send their children back to in-person schooling if certain measures were implemented. These included:

  • Limiting class sizes to facilitate social distancing (60%).
  • Requiring 14-day quarantine for faculty/staff with COVID-19 (59%).
  • Conducting regular COVID-19 tests on teachers even without symptoms (56%).

Factors that parents did not feel would have as strong an impact on their willingness to send their children back included:

  • Requiring students be vaccinated to attend (47%).
  • Requiring faculty and staff be vaccinated to work (44%).
  • Conducting regular COVID-19 tests on students even without symptoms (44%).

As the overall vaccination rate increases and as we see a rollback of pandemic-related restrictions, parents will continue to be faced with questions that may not always have a clear answer. By considering data such as these, policymakers and healthcare providers will be better able to understand and address parent concerns, leading to healthier communities for all.


Author: The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University ranks among the top 15% of schools of public affairs at #38 by U.S. News & World Report. It is also ranked #19 in Social Policy, #28 in Urban Policy, and #34 in Public Management and Leadership. Twitter: @VCUWilderSchool

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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