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Revisiting Parent Perceptions of Child Vaccinations

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

By The Office of Research and Outreach at VCU Wilder School
December 2, 2021

Following the recent announcement that COVID-19 vaccinations are available to children aged five to 11, many parents celebrated while others hesitated. As policymakers and public health officials encourage parents to vaccinate their children, understanding reasons for and against child vaccination will be important in their messaging.

In June 2021, our PA Times article discussed parent perceptions of child vaccinations as of that time. Here, we revisit the data and consider new data and policies to better understand current parent perceptions. As of May 2021, 66% of parents in Virginia said that they were likely to vaccinate their children aged 12 to 17, and 63% said that they were likely to vaccinate their children aged 11 and under, according to a 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 at VCU.

In July 2021, RISE conducted another poll and asked the same questions of parents regarding their willingness to give their children the COVID-19 vaccine. At that time, 59% of parents in Virginia with children aged 12 to 17 said that they were willing to vaccinate their children (a 7-point decrease from May) and 53% of parents said that they were willing to vaccinate their children aged 11 and under (a 10-point decrease from May). Conversely, 33% of parents with children aged 12 to 17 said that they were not at all likely to vaccinate their children (a 10-point increase from May) and 38% of parents said that they were not at all likely to vaccinate their children aged 11 and under (an 11-point increase from May).

There were racial differences in parental willingness to vaccinate their children, with fewer white parents saying that they are likely to vaccinate children ages 12-15 (52%) and ages 11 and under (44%) compared to African American parents (61% and 62%, respectively).

“Objective and relevant observation of the effects of race in American society is displayed by these poll responses. These data can be used to address the systemic and recurring effects in fostering the role of government,” said Governor L. Douglas Wilder.

While parents’ willingness to vaccinate their children decreased between the two polls, there was also a marked decrease in concern regarding vaccine side effects (77% versus 67%) and concern about how well the vaccines work (44% versus 37%). In addition, the July poll found that other reasons for not getting vaccinated included concern over how quickly the vaccines were developed and tested (72%) and a belief that the vaccine is not needed (43%).

From a national perspective, data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation as of October 28 indicate that vaccinations among those in the 12 to 17 age group have slowed in recent weeks, with about 50% of parents now saying that their children in this age range have already received the vaccine or will do so right away. In addition, 27% of parents with children aged five to 11 said that they would get their child vaccinated as soon as possible, while about a third said that they would wait and see how the vaccine is working before vaccinating their young child. In comparison, 31% of parents with a child aged 12 to 17 and 30% of parents with a child aged five to 11 said that they would definitely not get their child vaccinated.

Primary concerns that parents noted when it comes to vaccinating their young children included potential unknown long-term effects of the vaccine, serious side effects of the vaccine and a potential impact of the vaccine of their child’s future fertility.

Some parents also noted barriers to vaccinating their children, including having to miss work to get their child vaccinated, having to pay out-of-pocket costs to get their child vaccinated, the inability to have their child vaccinated at a place they trust and trouble traveling to a place where they could get their child vaccinated. These concerns were especially prominent among low-income parents.

As the pandemic continues, and as vaccines become more available for those in younger age groups, parents are faced with unprecedented choices. By considering data from local, state and federal sources, policymakers will be better equipped to provide parents with the information they need to keep their children healthy and safe.


Author: The Office of Research and Outreach at VCU’s Wilder School aims to enhance, promote, and celebrate the research of Wilder School faculty and students. The Office also oversees the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll, as well as research from the Wilder School’s Centers and Institutes. Twitter: VCUWilderSchool

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