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Confidence in COVID-19 vaccine declining among parents of youngest kids, survey says

The pre-kindergarten group from the Boys and Girls Club visit through the window with members of the supportive daycare program at the Froio Senior Center in Pittsfield, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)Ben Garver/Associated Press

Confidence in COVID-19 vaccinations among parents of children under 5 has been declining in recent months, according to a national survey, even as federal approval of shots for that age group appears to be moving closer.

Fifty-four percent of parents of children under 5 said they were likely or somewhat likely to get their children a COVID-19 vaccination, down from 62 percent in September and 58 percent in November, according to the survey released Friday by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States, a joint project of Northeastern University, Harvard University, Rutgers University, and Northwestern University.

Confidence in the vaccine among the parents varies according to a variety of demographic factors, including political party, income, and education level. But Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard and Northeastern who was the lead author of the report, pointed out that the study found declines in vaccine confidence among all demographic groups from September to January.

One possible reason, she speculated, was disappointing news of an announcement by Pfizer in December that its low-dose vaccine for children did not produce a potent immune response in children age 2 to just under 5. Parents may have been concerned that “effectiveness wasn’t where it needed to be,” she said.

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Another possibility, she said, is that parents lost some confidence in vaccines after seeing breakthrough infections during the Omicron surge, even though the shots are still beneficial. Federal health officials say being vaccinated and boosted protects people against severe disease and hospitalization — and they will ensure the vaccine for the youngest children is both safe and effective before approval.

The national survey also looked at parents of children 5 to 11 and 12 to 18, polling a total of 22,961 people between Dec. 22 and Jan. 24.

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Parents of children under 5 were the least likely among the three groups to vaccinate their children.

They were considered “likely” to vaccinate their children if they said they were “likely” or “somewhat likely” to do it.

The nation’s 19 million children under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus. Many parents have been pushing for an expansion of shots to toddlers and preschoolers, especially as the Omicron variant has sent record numbers of youngsters to the hospital.

Despite the December setback, Pfizer on Tuesday asked the US to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, potentially opening the way for shots to be administered as early as March.

In an extraordinary move, the Food and Drug Administration had urged Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to apply earlier than the companies had planned — and before it’s settled if the youngsters will need two shots or three.

“A vaccine for children under five would mean we would have vaccines available for essentially all age groups in America. This would be a major milestone,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response team earlier this week. “I’m hopeful that we may be one step closer to having an added layer of protection for our younger children, and one less worry for their parents.”

“Now there are a number of steps ahead to determine if the vaccine is both safe and effective for our kids under five. And please know that the FDA will not cut any corners in their review process. They know that they are the gold standard that all of us rely on,” he said.

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Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.




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