Feb 9, 2022 - Health

"The next culture war": Vaccines for young kids

Illustration of two children on a seesaw balanced atop a syringe

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pfizer and federal officials are scrambling to speed up COVID vaccines for kids under 5 — but polls indicate plenty of parents may be on the fence about getting their child vaccinated right away.

Why it matters: Officials are trying to get first shots into the littlest arms to protect against severe disease and hospitalization — which, while rare for young kids, is still a real threat.

  • But parents of younger children are generally more cautious, which for some could mean a race to get the shots once their kids are eligible while others choose to wait.

"When I looked at these numbers, I thought: 'Buckle up, PTAs. Toddler vaccines are the next culture war,'" John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, told Axios.

  • In a Harris poll of 306 parents of kids under 5 provided exclusively to Axios, 73% of vaccinated parents said they're likely to vaccinate their kids under 5, while only 35% of unvaccinated parents would.
  • On the flip side, 65% of unvaccinated parents said they are unlikely to get their kids under 5 vaccinated, while just 27% of vaccinated parents agreed.

Between the lines: It's hard to get an exact read on this question in polling, because once parents of kids under 5 are separated out in the data, the sample size gets small and the margins of error get large.

  • But the polling organizations Axios spoke with said their numbers are large enough to offer a meaningful picture of parents' vaccine sentiment.

By the numbers: When digging deeper into the data, Harris found that more women (47%) said they were unlikely to want their kids to get the shot than men (31%).

  • Almost half of the suburban respondents (49%) said they were unlikely to want the shot for their kids — almost as high as people from rural areas (57%) — compared to just 25% in urban areas.
  • More of those identifying as independents (57%) than Republicans (38%) or Democrats (26%) said they were unlikely to want the shot for their kids under 5.
  • "That doesn't really fit the mold. The unlikely are usually rural, Republicans, [making] under $50K," Gerzema said. These results suggest that suburban moms are "maybe having a pause on this and thinking should we just wait a couple of weeks on this?"

Other polls found more evidence of reluctant parents.

  • The Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index, which includes responses from 181 parents of children under 5 across three waves of polling since the beginning of the year, found that 44% of parents with kids under 5 said they were not very or not at all likely to get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible, while 41% said they would be likely.
  • The KFF Vaccine Monitor released last week, which included 162 responses from parents, found just three in 10 parents of children under 5 said they'd get their child vaccinated right away once a vaccine is approved. That was an improvement from one in five in July.

The bottom line: If and when Pfizer's vaccines become available for the youngest kids, officials will have a job ahead of them convincing many parents to take advantage of them, even after two years of waiting.

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