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Gauging COVID-19 vaccine interest among adolescents, parents

Date: Friday, July 9, 2021

In mid-May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents ages 12 through 15. 

In a survey conducted right before this decision, Aaron Scherer, PhD, assistant professor of internal medicine in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and a team of researchers from the UI College of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Rand Corp., found that adolescents and the parents of adolescents are split on their attitudes about adolescents getting the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“In our recent survey, we found that only half of parents reported they would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ get their adolescent vaccinated, with a similar rate in our adolescent sample,” Scherer says. “This would be yet another barrier to getting high enough levels of community immunity to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.”

These findings are described in Scherer’s article published July 9 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), which includes results from the first survey conducted by the CDC-funded Healthcare and Public Perceptions of Immunization Survey Collaborative, which Scherer leads. Scherer and his collaborators collected data from national samples of 985 adolescents and 1,022 parents of (different) adolescents. 

Respondents reported their adolescent COVID-19 vaccination intentions, as well as factors that would increase their intentions. The availability of more information about COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy for adolescents were among the top potential factors to increase vaccination intentions selected by both parents and adolescents. Parents and adolescents also reported that health officials and primary care providers were their most trusted sources for COVID-19 vaccine information.

Based on these findings, Scherer and his coauthors, including Christine Petersen, DVM, PhD, and Natoshia Askelson, PhD, in the UI College of Public Health, stressed how important it is for health care providers to effectively communicate the benefits and safety of COVID-19 vaccination for adolescents. 

“Understanding how parents of adolescents think about the COVID-19 vaccine gives us insight into how we can encourage COVID-19 vaccinations in adolescents, including what messages or interventions might be effective,” Askelson says. “Getting adolescents vaccinated will be key to keeping kids safe as they go back to school in the fall.” 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that eligible children receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19 and have been shown to decrease the transmission of virus. The vaccine is essential to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Results from this survey were presented at the May 12 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to help inform their decision about recommending the vaccine for adolescents aged 12 to 15. A recording of the meeting and slides can be found on the CDC website.