The COVID-19 Vaccine & Parents
We Should Be Intensely Focused On Vaccinating 75%+ Of The U.S. Adult Population Now, Rather Than Waiting For Kids To Become Eligible
The U.S. is making extraordinary progress on the administering COVID-19 vaccines. Less than four months after Pfizer became the first company to have its vaccine receive approval for use in the U.S., more than 40% of adults in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But while we are making incredible progress, we are going to increasingly run into vaccine hesitancy/reluctance and reach a point where supply begins to outpace demand (in some places this is already happening).
I classify attitudes among adult Americans towards the COVID-19 vaccine in three buckets:
- Those who would take the vaccine as soon as possible
- Those who are unsure, or only leaning towards taking it or not taking it (“wait-and-see’ers”)
- Those who are unlikely to take it in 2021 (barring some type of widespread mandate before the end of the year)
These groups can be segmented much further, but this is the simplest way to think about it. We are seeing and will continue to see shifting between the groups (e.g., some of the “wait-and-see’ers” have already moved into the “take as soon as possible” camp (or have even taken it) and some of the “won’t take in 2021” will likely end up taking the vaccine before the end of the year).
Several of the vaccine hesitant/reluctant groups have been well-documented (Republicans and African Americans are two of the more hesitant/reluctant groups, though for very different reasons). But there is another group that has not received as much attention until recently — kids, or specifically, parents making the decision to have their kids vaccinated. Although children under 16 (who account for 21% of the U.S. population) are not yet eligible for any of the vaccines, much has been made in recent weeks about how critical this population is to reaching herd immunity. And while there was outstanding news last week about the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine in 12–15 year olds, there are some early signs that show widespread vaccine adoption among kids could take some time once they become eligible.
Recent Survey Data Of Parents
Even as we are seeing some erosion in adult vaccine hesitancy, several recent surveys reveal reluctance among parents in having their kids take the vaccine:
- An Echelon Insights national survey of 1,000 parents of school aged children from January found just 35% would have their child/children vaccinated as soon as it was available for children (another 25% said they would have their child/children vaccinated, but not right away, while 22% said they would not have their child/children vaccinated and 18% said they were unsure).
- A WebMD survey conducted in February of 1,000 adults with children under the age of 16 found slightly fewer than one-half of parents would get their child/children vaccinated within a year of a shot being approved, while roughly a quarter said they were unsure and one-fifth said they would not get their children vaccinated.
- A national survey from the COVID States Project conducted in February found 44% of mothers say they would be extremely or somewhat likely to get their child/children vaccinated, with the rest unsure or unlikely (adoption among mothers is particularly important, as women are known to make nearly 80% of the medical decisions for their children).
- A national survey from Ipsos in early April found 51% of parents say they would be likely to have their child vaccinated as soon as it was available for their child’s age group (including just 27% who say they are very likely).
2020–2021 Flu Vaccine Among Kids
Other data sources illustrate the potential for gradual adoption among the under-18 population. Early last fall there were concerns among health experts of a “twindemic,” consisting of COVID-19 and the flu, that would overwhelm hospitals and healthcare providers. That concern was reflected in the internet search patterns of everyday Americans. A Google Trends history of searches of “flu vaccine” over the last decade shows that the highest search rate for flu vaccine in the U.S. came last fall.
And the increased attention and concern resulted in an uptick of flu vaccines administered in the U.S. — 20 million additional flu vaccine doses have been distributed this flu season, compared to the previous season, as of late February.
Or it at least improved adoption among adults. Because as of late February, the flu vaccine rate for children 6 months to 17 years was lower than the previous season (it is important to note that pediatric office visits declined in 2020, which likely explains some of the drop among children).
The twindemic did not unfold of course, as many of the measures designed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 also prevented the spread of the flu. But given the heightened attention on the flu vaccine and the urging of medical professionals about the importance of getting the flu vaccine, it is notable that flu vaccines among kids appears to have declined from the 2019–2020 flu season.
Reaching Herd Immunity (Or 70%+ Vaccinated)
The Centers for Disease Control defines herd immunity (or community immunity) as a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely.
The share of Americans needing some form of immunity from COVID-19 for the U.S. to reach herd immunity has commonly been cited as at least 70%. Though some in the medical community have argued that vaccines and natural immunity (from having contracted and recovered from the virus) will get us to the 70% threshold (or roughly 230 million Americans) in the not-too-distant future, others, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said we will need to have 70% — 85% of the country vaccinated to reach herd immunity. While the vaccine-plus-natural immunity argument makes sense, it seems more likely that the “goal line” for a full reopening will end up being the share of Americans who have been vaccinated (after all, Dr. Fauci does have the ear of the President).
Which brings us to the need to aggressively focus on the adult population right now. Obviously, the more of the adult population that we vaccinate now, the less we will need to rely on kids when they become eligible.
After an initial wave of kids who take the vaccine once it is approved, time, societal pressure, and government/institutional actions like mandates will increase the vaccination rate of kids (many experts believe that schools will eventually require the COVID-19 vaccine for kids, though that may take some time). And it cannot be overstated, that as with so much of COVID-19, opinion and behavior can quickly shift.
But even as millions of Americans are taking the vaccine by the day, recent survey data of parents and empirical evidence with the flu vaccine suggest that we could have a challenge when kids begin to come online for the vaccine. We should be hyper-focused on getting as much of the adult population vaccinated as we possibly can right now.