Kim Hagood, 50, was elated when she heard the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days likely will authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for teenagers between 12 and 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 alsowill seek authorization for children aged 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 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.”
However, not every parent feels that way.
Only 58% of parents or caregivers said in a March survey they would vaccinate their children against COVID-19, despite 71% saying they would vaccinate themselves, according to a report by ParentsTogether, a national parent’s 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 awhile to see how the vaccine is working before getting their child vaccinated, and 19% said they definitely won’t get their child vaccinated.
People are naturally more cautious with their own children, said Dr. Mary Carol Burkhardt, primary care pediatrician and associate division director for primary care of 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, speed of the vaccine’s development and the lack of opportunity for long-term studies.
The study also found Black parents were especially hesitant, with 26% of respondents saying they would “probably not” or “definitely not” vaccinate their children compared to white parents (15%) or Hispanic parents (13%).
Parents’ hesitancy appears to stem from uncertainty rather than outright opposition, health experts say, 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, cofounder and codirector of ParentsTogether who authored the vaccine hesitancy report.
One of the ways to encourage vaccinations is to change the conversation regarding vaccine hesitancy, said Dr. Clarissa Dudley, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital in D.C. 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 also say 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 children between 12 and 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 be turning 18 in the next couple of years and they’ll be able to decide for themselves if they want to get vaccinated, she added. It’s important they have the right tools and education to make that decision when the time comes.
Like other childhood vaccines, schools also may play an important role in getting COVID-19 shots in arms. Schools don’t currently mandate children to get vaccinated because the coronavirus vaccines currently are only authorized by the FDA for emergency use.
However, 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.
More:Pfizer-BioNTech seeks full FDA approval for COVID-19 vaccine
More:Vaccine equity remains elusive as vaccination rates for people of color still lag
“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 impact 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 outweigh 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 pre-registering teens for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in anticipation of its authorization and many parents are jumping at the opportunity.
Since pre-registration opened May 5, more than 4,100 teenagers aged 12 to 15 have signed up to get vaccinated at the Children’s National Hospital in D.C. 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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