Covid vaccination rates in US children under five lag despite effectiveness

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It’s been three months since the US allowed Covid vaccines for children under five, yet uptake by this group has been very low. Meanwhile, Joe Biden said Monday that the pandemic is nearing an end — a message that could lead to an ongoing delay.

More than 1,400 children have died from Covid in the United States, and at least 533 of those deaths were among children under the age of five, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This makes Covid one of the top 10 causes of child mortality in the country.

However, only about 6% of children under five got their first vaccinations, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the lowest rate to date of any age demographic.

A recent study clearly shows that Covid vaccines save children’s lives. An extended study that followed children ages 5 to 11 found that Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine was effective in preventing infection and incredibly protective of hospitalization and death.

To date, 1.19 million children under the age of five have received at least one injection of Covid, with an overall vaccination rate of 6.2%. This age group became eligible for the injection on June 18, a year and a half after it was authorized for adults, but researchers found that vaccinations peaked within two weeks.

About four in 10 children between the ages of 5 and 11 are vaccinated, a rate that has remained fairly constant through the summer. By comparison, about three out of every four adults are vaccinated.

Even with some children going back to school — while many families visit their doctors — rates have been slow to rise. The reasons relate to hesitation about the safety, efficacy and necessity of vaccines, as well as limited access to them.

Related: Polio may be making a comeback — and it’s starting to mistakenly associate autism with vaccination

In addition, many families say the federal advice on when and how to vaccinate children is confusing.

Hesitation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines has been a major driver of this delay. Many families are concerned about the novelty, side effects, and safety of vaccines in general, according to a July survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

“One of the most commonly cited things is the feeling that the vaccine is too new, that there isn’t enough testing, especially for young children, and that more research is needed,” said Lunna Lopes, senior survey analyst at KFF.

There is also a “common theme of not feeling like their child needs it, not worrying about Covid-19 as a threat to their child,” Lopez said.

Jessica Calarco, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University who began tracking families’ attitudes toward vaccines in 2018, said this is largely because many parents have internalized the message that COVID does not affect children. Agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and parenting advice numbers that children are unlikely to contract, transmit or become seriously ill from Covid-19.

“It laid the foundation for parents—particularly white parents with children who had no pre-existing conditions, and who didn’t have any family members at high risk—to feel confident sending their children to school and back to childcare,” Calarco said.

“The problem, though, is that once parents were convinced by this idea that their children would not be seriously harmed by Covid and were unlikely to pass it on to others, many of them actually stopped following the news,” he said.

The families told her they didn’t want to know if the level of risk had changed or if new variables were emerging – “”If something bad is going to happen, I don’t want to know about it.” “

She said the same belief that children are essentially exempt from Covid led them to believe a vaccine was unnecessary. Many children have already had Covid at least once, so families believe they will be protected from infection and that the disease in the future will be mild.

More than half of parents believe the vaccine poses greater health risks than the virus. Even those who think vaccines are safe for adults are concerned about their safety in children, according to a December 2021 KFF survey.

More than a quarter of families whose young children have not yet been vaccinated are not against it — they just want to wait and see how the vaccination process begins, Lopez said.

Vaccine mandates can change families’ sense of urgency and urgency to vaccinate. More than a third — 40% — of parents whose children have not been vaccinated now said they would get the injections if needed, Calarco said.

“If it’s required for school, childcare, and activities, that would tip the balance for parents.”

Especially once childhood vaccinations go from emergency clearance to full approval — as happened to people over 12 and 18, with shots from Pfizer and Moderna respectively — more child care centers, schools and activity providers can add them to their list of required vaccines for families, she said.

Severe cases of Covid among children are not as common as they are among adults, but some children still get sick from Covid. Children under the age of two can be particularly vulnerable to contracting Covid, compared to older children.

Roughly the same number of children are hospitalized now than this time last year during a delta wave. The health system is also being strained by the simultaneous emergence of polio, amyloidosis and a respiratory virus that can cause paralysis. In some places, there are pediatric intensive care units previously Full of.

And other aspects of life, including school, can be disrupted even by mild illness with higher cases and fewer precautions, including vaccination.

While some parents are waiting for their children to be vaccinated, nearly half of the parents surveyed by the KFF said they “definitely won’t” have their children under five, and resistance is higher among conservatives, with 64% of Republicans saying they would. Do not vaccinate their children.

This has led to a geographic disparity in vaccinations, with less than 2% of young children being vaccinated in Republican-led states. Florida, for example, does not recommend vaccinations at all for “healthy” children.

Families in rural areas are twice as likely to oppose children’s Covid vaccines, according to a March CDC report. Nearly 40% of parents in rural areas said their pediatrician had not recommended vaccinations for them, compared to 8% of parents in urban areas.

A marked decrease in urgency also occurs in some doctors’ offices.

Across the country, among parents who spoke with their doctors about vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11, four in 10 (15%) said they don’t believe their doctor recommends dosing, according to a December KFF survey.

Lopez noted that this does not necessarily mean that the doctor recommended against the injection. And the majority – 70% – of families have not spoken to pediatricians at all.

“Often, they don’t actively ask pediatricians for information about it, and then pediatricians don’t actively provide information about it — so there seems to be a lot of silence,” Calarco said.

Messages from doctors are important. Unlike adult vaccinations, there are no mass vaccination sites for young children. Older children had vaccination clinics at school, but those clinics may not reach younger children. Most pharmacies will not vaccinate children under the age of three. Instead, asking children under the age of five relies heavily on pediatricians and family doctors, because they have high levels of confidence.

But this plan means that initiating vaccination will be longer and more complex in this age group, even among health care providers and families willing or eager to vaccinate. Children under the age of five usually go to the doctor every three, six, or 12 months, depending on their age. This means families may wait up to a year to speak with their pediatrician about vaccinations.

There are also racial, social, and economic disparities in access to the vaccine. Nearly half of black parents of unvaccinated children under the age of five say they are concerned about needing to take time off work for their children to receive and recover from vaccinations, and almost the same percentage of Hispanic parents say they are concerned about being able to vaccinate their children. Kids are in a place they can trust, according to a KFF Foundation survey.

And not all pediatricians have super-cold refrigerators to store vaccines, further complicating access issues. They may be wary of asking for a minimum number of doses if it’s not clear that families want them. Staff shortages have also affected doctors’ offices, making vaccine clinics more difficult to manage.

Amid messages from the White House that the urgency of the pandemic is fading, and with funds for vaccines drying up, it may be difficult for families to understand why and how to vaccinate their children.

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