IUPUI researchers conduct statewide study to see if parents plan to vaccinate Indiana children

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FILE – In this Sept. 2, 2021, file photo, children sit in a classroom at school in Strasbourg, eastern France. Children across Europe are going back to school, with hopes of a return to normality after 18 months of pandemic disruption and fears of a new surge in infections from the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jean-François Badias, File)

INDIANAPOLIS – On Friday, Pfizer reported that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and nearly 91 percent effective for children ages 5 to 11.

The question is now, once available, will parents get their children vaccinated? IUPUI researchers surveyed thousands of Hoosier parents in hopes of finding the answer.

“Vaccine knowledge, vaccine hesitancy is a complex thing,”  said Nir Menachemi, a professor in the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI. He’s also the lead researcher on this study and the Department Chair for Health Policy and Management

Menachemi and his team set out to hear from parents: “Would you vaccinate your child when and if they become eligible?”

To conduct this study, IUPUI partnered with the Indiana Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Education in hopes of gathering insight into what decisions parents are making and how our state can prepare as the pandemic continues.

From May to June of 2021, IUPUI researchers gathered data from more than 10,000 parents, representing 20,000 students across the state. Principals and superintendents distributed an anonymous survey online.

About 45 percent of parents responded saying they will be vaccinating their child or already have.

“On the other hand, we had about 42 percent of parents saying that they really weren’t interested in vaccinating their child, they’re position was either definitely not or only if required,” added Menachemi.

Thirteen percent of parents are considered in the “wait and see category.”

“We felt like that group was pretty important from a public health perspective because it seems like they were hesitant. Rather than rejecting the vaccines at that point, they were hesitant. It seems like they could benefit for having access to more information that specifically addresses their needs,” said Menachemi.

The survey also found that knowing someone who died from COVID-19 or who was hospitalized increased a parent’s willingness to vaccinate their children.

Based on these findings, researchers developed recommendations for policymakers. Researchers believe there needs to be more targeted, community-based work to encourage people to get vaccinated. They found parents want to hear from people they trust. Also, that hearing from a trusted health care provider or pediatrician could be a major benefit.

“They want to hear from folks in their community, people like them,” said Menachemi. “Friends, relatives, people they trust because they know [them] on a personal level.”

Rachel Burke is a mom to three vaccinated teenagers. She said she wanted to keep them safe and in school. Her children also participated in a vaccine study.

“If your child is vaccinated, they don’t have to quarantine if they had a close exposure,” said Burke.

Burke has spoken with parents on both sides of the decision.

“Why we made that choice and why it was really important for us was a good conversation I think to have with those parents, to help them feel better about making this choice,” Burke added.

A choice that many more parents will have to make; children ages 5 to 11 could begin getting the Pfizer vaccine as early as next month.

“The reason the youngest kids have not yet been authorized for the vaccine is not because it’s unsafe for them, it’s because we didn’t want to take any chances and wanted more time to study,” said Menachemi. “Kids are not just small adults, they’re different. So, understanding what level of the vaccine, what dose is appropriate for them and whether or not they would respond immunologically in the same way as the older kids and adults was important and it was not worth rushing it.”

What happens next when it comes to kids and the Pfizer COVID vaccine?

Next week, the FDA will publicly debate the evidence and if it authorizes the shots, the CDC will make the final recommendations.

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