When the COVID-19 shots were first approved for children, many parents were hesitant to get their children vaccinated.
The shots, though thoroughly tested and evaluated for safetyTrusted Source and efficacy, were new and many parents simply wanted to make sure they were asking the right questions to best protect their kids.
As a result, many parents initially took a “wait and see” approach. And though COVID-19 vaccinations have been increasing among children, the overall rates remain lower than what public health experts hoped for.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 8.6 million children ages 5 to 11 — which equates to about 30 percent of the age group — have received one vaccine. About 22 percent of the 5 to 11 age group is fully vaccinated.
Vaccination rates are higher among older children — 56 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 have received both shots and 66 percent have received one dose.
“Most parents are more accepting of the vaccine now than they were a year ago. With over 50 percent of the 12- to 18-year olds vaccinated, more and more parents are talking to each other, which helps build community confidence,” said Dr. Molly O’Shea, a pediatrician and member of the HHS COVID Faculty for the National Preparedness Team.
How are parents’ attitudes about the shots changing?
Dr. Lisa Doggett, senior medical director for HGS/AxisPoint Health and a fellow with the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Vaccine Science Fellowship, says many parents held off on having their child vaccinated soon after the shots were authorized for children.
They took a “wait and see” approach to first observe how other children in their communities responded to the vaccine.
Recently, there’s been an uptick in COVID vaccinations among kids.
Sixty-one percent of parents with kids ages 12 to 17 recently said their child has received at least one dose, which is up from 49 percent in November 2021.
Additionally, one-third of parents with kids ages 5 to 11 say their child has received one dose, which increased from 16 percent in November.
“As more and more COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to kids, parents have become more comfortable getting their own kids vaccinated,” Doggett told Healthline.
Dr. Zachary Hoy, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Pediatrix Nashville Pediatric Infectious Disease, says parents of his patients mainly express concerns about the side effects of the shots and aren’t convinced kids need to be vaccinated, since they generally have less severe symptoms than older children and adults.
According to Doggett, parents seem more concerned with the risks of the shot rather than the risk of infection in children.
She said she was surprised that so many parents have been hesitant considering many are comfortable with routine childhood vaccinations.
“I understand these reasons, but unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy is a real public health threat that is contributing to further spread of the virus and prolonging the pandemic,” Doggett said.
How will parents feel about vaccinated kids under 5?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently evaluating the safety and efficacy of the shots in children ages 6 months to 5 years and is expected to make a decision on the emergency-use authorization (EUA) later this month.
Doggett is excited about the potential EUA of the vaccines in young children, but expects uptake to start slow despite the fact that the safety data previously released appears strong.
Researchers are still evaluating the effectiveness of the shots in young children.
O’Shea predicts that about 25 to 35 percent of parents will immediately get their young children vaccinated upon authorization of the shots.
A recent survey by Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit tracking the public’s perceptions and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations, found that 3 in 10 parents plan to get their child under 5 years old vaccinated immediately.
“I think with time many of the more hesitant parents will see that these vaccines are safe and offer them an opportunity to resume pre-pandemic activities, like travel and visiting grandparents, without fear of viral spread,” Doggett said.
How safe are the shots for kids?
Hoy says the side effects of the shots are similar to those reported in older kids and adults.
“Parents should understand the COVID vaccine has been tested in children in the approved age groups. Dosages have been adjusted appropriately based on age and size,” Hoy said.
Though the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in children remains rare, the risk is not zero.
Thousands of children in the United States have been hospitalized, and CDC provisional data show 940 kids under 18 years old have died as of February 9.
Getting kids vaccinated not only protects their health, but it helps reduce community spread as well.
One of the best ways to encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated is for them to have a conversation with their child’s pediatrician.
Hoy encourages parents to write down any questions they may have about the shots and the risks of COVID-19 in children so they can have an open, honesty conversations with their child’s doctors.
“The COVID-19 vaccine in kids [and adults] has an outstanding record of safety. It has now been given to about 25 million children in the U.S., and serious side effects have been very rare,” Doggettt said.
The bottom line
When the COVID-19 shots were first approved for children, many parents were hesitant to get their children vaccinated and held off on having their children vaccinated.
COVID vaccination rates in children have recently increased, but millions of children remain unvaccinated. Pediatricians expect that more parents will have their kids vaccinated as they continue to see that the shots are safe and effective.