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Child vaccination efforts will require clear understanding of the evidence

Addressing parent concerns and providing trusted resources will be key, say experts

EVANSTON, Ill. --- FDA officials have authorized Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine shots for children ages 5-11. Public health officials are now tasked with executing an ambitious rollout plan, despite hesitancy by a significant number of parents to vaccinate children.

Professors of medicine, psychology and political science share insights and resources to address the concerns of parents about the safety and efficacy of vaccines for children.

Political Science
‘Nearly one-third of parents are reluctant to vaccinate’ 

James Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the University’s Institute for Policy Research. Druckman is also part of the university consortium conducting the 50-State COVID-19 surveys at covidstates.org. His research focuses on political preference formation and communication. He can be reached at druckman@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Druckman
“Our Aug. 26 to Sept. 27 survey of over 21,000 Americans found nearly one-third of parents are reluctant to vaccinate young children due to concerns over the long-time effects of vaccine.

“These results suggest the Biden administration may face an uphill battle in executing their vaccination plan — which taps more than 25,000 pediatrician offices, community health centers, schools and pharmacies to help vaccinate young kids — if they can’t alleviate parents’ concerns about the vaccine.

“There is a clear need for more general conversations about what the scientific community knows about over-time effects of vaccines more generally.”

Psychology
‘This is an opportunity for discussions with children’ 

David N. Rapp is a professor in both the School of Education and Social Policy and the department of psychology and an expert on the cognitive mechanisms responsible for successful learning and knowledge failures, particularly as related to fake news. He can be reached at rapp@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Rapp
“Now that the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 is approved, evidence-based communications targeting parents are more important than ever, but it is also important to prioritize the child.   

“Supporting children’s vaccinations likely requires convincing parents. But it also requires, for both parents and children, ensuring evidence for vaccinations are clear and provided by sources deemed credible.

“Having rich discussions with children about COVID-19 vaccinations, their roles and responsibilities, the current controversies, and the empirical evidence supporting its utility and benefits, all afford the opportunity to enhance kids’ knowledge building and engagements with their own health considerations (not limited to COVID), and more broadly with information environments.”

Pediatric medicine
‘Vaccine dosage will be smaller; Kids thrive on consistency’

Dr. Jennifer Kusma is an advanced general pediatric and primary care physician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She can be reached by contacting Kristin Samuelson at ksamuelson@northwestern.edu

Quote from Dr. Kusma
“It’s looking like children 5-11 years old will be recommended to receive a smaller dose than individuals 12 years and older, which is in some ways not surprising. We’ve seen this with other immunizations where it is beneficial to give it to younger kids as they have a better immune response to take up vaccine. One example of this is if a child gets the HPV vaccine before they turn 15 years old, their immune system only requires them to have two doses compared to three. 

“We want kids in school and socializing because we know that’s so important for mental health. Hopefully, this vaccine is going to be the thing that keeps us from pulling kids out of school for extended periods of time due to necessary quarantines for potential exposures or sick symptoms. This is our best chance to get to whatever this post-COVID normal is going to look like. The more we can protect the community, with children making up a significant proportion of the population, the more likely we are going to be to go into that world.” 

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