More than 18 million children under age 5 in America are now eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 according to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There’s just one problem: Amid rampant misinformation and perceived delay, more than half of parents surveyed with kids under age 5 report not having enough information to know if they should vaccinate their child against COVID-19.
Vaccine hesitancy has increased significantly in recent years as misinformation and politics take over social media. The result has been massive confusion among parents especially over what is true and what is not, complicating the question of whether or not they can safely vaccinate their child.
This was evidenced when the survey — released by the Kaiser Family Foundation in May — also found that 27% of parents with children under age 5 will “definitely not” vaccinate their kids, and another 11% would do so only if mandated.
Overall, the survey also found that only 19% of parents were eager to immediately vaccinate their young children, despite that it’s been a full seven months since children ages 5 and up were authorized for the shots, and a year and a half after the vaccines first became available to American adults. The technology for both vaccines has also been in development for decades.
The findings suggest attitudes toward vaccinations for our youngest now trend even lower than for vaccine rates among children ages 5 to 11. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of June 15 a dismal 29% of 5 to 11 year olds in America had received the full two dose COVID-19 series. However among 12 to 17 year olds, the number climbed to 59% more closely mirroring adult vaccinations.
In Colorado, the number of children getting vaccinated has mostly stagnated, although overall rates trend a bit higher than the national average. For ages 5 to 11, vaccinations are holding at 35% for the two-dose series, with 12 to 17 year olds reaching 65% for both doses.
In part due to low vaccination numbers, concern for outbreaks among kids is mounting as Colorado experiences yet another surge in cases and hospitalizations with positivity rates frequently in the double digits. Almost 6% of Colorado’s population was counted as under age 5 in the recent census, which continues to leave daycares, preschools and elementary schools particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Although the vaccine for children may only slightly curb overall death and hospitalizations rates, it could help address the rise of severe cases in kids as the coronavirus continues to mutate. The omicron variant has especially impacted children under age 5, with hospitalization rates rising five times higher than during the delta surge.
Overall 442 children under age 5 have died in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, with another 815 children aged 5 to 18 also dying, totaling more than 1,250 child deaths to date. For contrast, the CDC reports 39 to 199 child deaths per year due to the flu. However, both disease death rates are thought to be significantly undercounted.
Even as efficacy rates for the vaccine may be lower due to new strains, the vaccines available to kids today have undergone rigorous review by experts. The latest authorizations highlight how the benefits of the vaccines were found to far outweigh the risks, even for young children.
Anticipated benefits include reduced severity of illness, fewer outbreaks at schools and within families, an overall reduction in days of school or work missed due to COVID-19 and possibly even reduced likelihood of long COVID.
Still, with so much contradictory information available online, many parents continue to feel unsure of who to turn to for reliable information in making this decision. To this end, many pediatricians are trying to remind parents that just as you trust them to keep your kid’s heart or bones healthy, you can trust them to keep your kids healthy against COVID, too.
Pediatricians — and doctors in general — do their best to keep you and your family healthy. Unlike politicians, that is their only agenda. So if you are one of the more than half of parents who feel like you don’t have enough information on COVID-19 vaccines for kids, know that you can trust your child’s pediatrician.
When it comes to the vaccine, they will be more than happy to help you separate fact from fiction and determine what is best for your child.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.