Kim Hagood, 50, was elated when she heard the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days probably will authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for youths 12 to 15 years old.
Although her 10-year-old son, Blake, wouldn’t qualify just yet, the company said during a quarterly earnings call Tuesday it will seek authorization for children ages 2 to 11 by September, according to The New York Times.
“If he can get that shot by the end of the year, I would be thrilled,” said Hagood, who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April in Birmingham, Alabama. “I don’t want to take the chance on my child being the one sick (from COVID-19) and ending up in the hospital.”
Not every parent feels that way.
Fifty-eight percent of parents or caregivers said in a survey in March that they would get their children vaccinated against COVID-19, a drop from the 71% who said they would get vaccinated themselves, according to a report by ParentsTogether, a national organization that provides education and resources for families.
A more recent survey published in the April edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor found 32% of parents said they'll wait to see how the vaccine works before getting their child vaccinated, and 19% said they definitely wouldn't get their child vaccinated.
People are naturally more cautious with their children, said Mary Carol Burkhardt, a pediatrician and associate division director for primary care at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
“We’re certainly seeing both sides of the coin,” she said. “Some parents want to be first in line and want to get their kids protected … on the other side, we have a lot of families who are not hesitant but don’t want to be first.”
In the ParentsTogether survey from March, parents said they were concerned about short-term side effects, unknown long-term side effects, the speed of vaccine development and the lack of opportunity for long-term studies.
The study found Black parents were especially hesitant: 26% of respondents said they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get their children vaccinated compared with white parents (15%) or Hispanic parents (13%).
Parents’ hesitancy appears to stem from uncertainty rather than outright opposition, health experts said, which is encouraging because it leaves room for pediatricians to engage parents with more information and education.
“It’s going to take some time for all parents to become comfortable with the vaccine, but what I’m hoping people understand … is that this becomes part of a way to protect our children and community,” said Bethany Robertson, co-founder and co-director of ParentsTogether who wrote the vaccine hesitancy report.
One of the ways to encourage vaccinations is to change the conversation regarding hesitancy, said Clarissa Dudley, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington. Instead of categorizing a parent as “vaccine hesitant,” she recommends referring to them as “thoughtful” to avoid feelings of parent-shaming and blame.
“There’s a lot of thought that they’re putting into these decisions,” she said. “Some parents feel like they’re being blamed for not jumping into whatever decision somebody tells them to make.”
Heath experts said targeted education through trusted messengers, such as community leaders or a child’s pediatrician, is key to dispelling misinformation.
It’s important to involve children in vaccine conversations, especially older ones 12 to 17 years old, Dudley said.
“You have to involve the child from early on, from the time they’re able to communicate to understand their own bodies,” she said. “If you understand your body, you’re more capable of making healthy choices.”
Many of these teenagers will turn 18 in the next couple of years and they’ll be able to decide for themselves whether they want to get vaccinated, she said. It’s important they have the right tools and education to make that decision when the time comes.
Schools may play an important role in getting COVID-19 shots in arms the way they do for other childhood vaccines, though schools don’t mandate children to get vaccinated because the coronavirus vaccines are only authorized by the FDA for emergency use.
Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, submitted an application to the FDA Friday for full approval of their COVID-19 vaccine. Although it’s not clear how long the FDA will take to review the data the companies will submit over the coming weeks, full approval may encourage schools to mandate vaccinations.
“I’m not sure if the schools know how powerful they are,” Dudley said. “One of the bigger things that helps us pediatricians is the schools … I hope the schools move very quickly to say a vaccine is required so that we have the support.”
Many parents are desperate to get their children back to school because they’re concerned about their child’s mental and developmental health.
The lack of social interaction that kids experience every day at school can affect a child’s developmental milestones, which can manifest in outbursts and other behavioral cues, Dudley said.
“Most parents now recognize that the risk for keeping their child at home and isolated outweighs the risk of having any adverse events from the vaccine, and they really want their children to be back at school safely,” she said.
Hospitals have begun preregistering teens for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in anticipation of its authorization and many parents are jumping at the opportunity.
Since preregistration opened Wednesday, more than 4,100 youths ages 12 to 15 have been signed up to get vaccinated at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington as of Friday morning.
“Pediatricians specifically are privileged to have the honor to care for (parents’) most valued possession, so from the very beginning, we have to develop that relationship of trust,” Dudley said. “We want to work with them closely to get them to a space where they have the most information and make healthy choices for them and their children.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: Parents both excited, undecided about Pfizer vaccine for kids