Survey: Mothers more hesitant than fathers about coronavirus vaccines for their children

Researchers from the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States, which includes Northeastern University, Harvard University, Northwestern University, and Rutgers University, released the results last week.

The researchers said in a report on the survey that the finding was “particularly notable since initial research suggests that mothers’ attitudes appear to have a stronger influence than those of fathers on whether their children get vaccinated.”

Matthew Simonson, a Northeastern University graduate student who was the lead author, said, “It’s possible that mothers are more used to thinking about this issue beforehand and thus are attuned to the concerns that are circulating out there – and perhaps more plugged into the misinformation about the vaccine that’s on the Web.”

“It’s also possible that some of this misinformation is deliberately targeting mothers because mothers are perceived to be the primary decisionmakers,” he said.

The survey also found that younger mothers were more resistant to vaccinating their children than older mothers, with nearly a third under 36 years old saying they were “extremely unlikely” to vaccinate their children, while only a quarter of older mothers said so.

Simonson said it’s possible that younger mothers are on social media more and thus exposed to more misinformation.

David Lazer, a Northeastern University professor who also worked on the report, told NPR News the results “point to the need to target communication efforts to particular populations that are vaccine-skeptical and I think, for example, younger mothers. And I think that’s one of the key takeaways. It’s not an easy thing to do – whether that’s through communicating with pediatricians or encouraging mothers to talk to their children’s doctors.”

He said the data showed the importance of doctors and primary caregivers as “a key conduit for providing information and persuading people that it is safe to get vaccinated.”

Everyone 16 and over is now eligible to get coronavirus vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people as young as 16. The US Food and Drug Administration is poised to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for 12-to 15-year-olds this week. Epidemiologists say it’s crucial to expand vaccine coverage in the population. According to Census Bureau data, the soon-to-be approved group may represent fewer than 20 million people.

Other findings from the survey included:

– Educational, income, and partisan divides in attitudes toward child vaccination, already significant, have become more pronounced since the February survey. Parents in households making less than $25,000 per year, parents without a college degree, and parents who are Republican have become more resistant to vaccinating their children. Higher-income, college-educated, and Democratic parents, who were already less resistant, became even less so.

– Parents of teenagers are less resistant to having their children vaccinated than parents of small children. Thirty percent of mothers and 12 percent of fathers were resistant to vaccinating their infants and preschoolers, compared with 25 percent and 9 percent among mothers and fathers of teenagers 13 to 17, respectively.

– Support for school vaccination requirements among all adults grew slightly, from 54 percent to 58 percent. The increase held for most gender, race, and income categories. But among Republicans, who had the lowest level of support, it remained virtually unchanged.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last week that it had also found substantial vaccine hesitancy specifically among parents of 12-to-15-year-olds in a poll conducted in the last two weeks in April.

The foundation said 23 percent of those parents said they would definitely not get their children vaccinated, 18 percent would only vaccinate if the school requires it, and 26 percent would wait to see how the vaccine is working. Only 30 percent said they would get their child vaccinated right away.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents’ intentions for vaccinating their kids largely line up with their own intentions for getting the COVID-19 vaccine themselves,” the foundation said.

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.


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