How misinformation about vaccine safety aids reluctance to vaccinate children in US


A recent study has shown how misinformation about vaccine safety influenced the reluctance to vaccinate children in the United States.

The study, titled: “Misinformation about vaccine safety and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among adults and 5-11-year-olds in the United States,” was published in the journal Vaccine, an official journal of the Edward Jenner Society and the Japanese Society for Vaccinology.

The study, carried out by researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Centre (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania, found that U.S. adult hesitancy to be vaccinated against COVID was associated with misbeliefs about vaccines in general.

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Such misbeliefs include the false impression that vaccines contain toxins like antifreeze.

There are also fears that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism, which was said to be false.

Another impression with no evidence was that the flu vaccine increases the chances of contracting Covid-19.

All these were said to have predicted hesitancy to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11, even among those who had been vaccinated themselves.

The lead author and APPC research director, Dan Romer, said, “All of the misconceptions we studied focused in one way or another on the safety of vaccination, and that explains why people’s misbeliefs about vaccinating kids are so highly related to their concerns about vaccines in general.”

“Unfortunately, those concerns weigh even more heavily when adults consider vaccinating children,” he added.

The study draws on four waves of a national probability survey conducted with more than 1,600 U.S. adults for APPC by an independent research firm, SSRS.

The waves were in April, June and September 2021, and January 2022, while the last wave was conducted several months after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency use authorization to Covid-19 vaccines for 5-11-year-olds in October 2021.

Survey panellists were asked about Covid-19 and vaccine knowledge, beliefs, and behaviours. Full vaccination rates among the panellists ranged from 31% in April 2021 to 71% in September 2021, then rose to 74% by January 2022.

The key question was why an adult who had been vaccinated against Covid-19 would express reluctance to have a 5-11-year-old do the same.

The study’s answer to that was that misinformation about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine increased the reluctance of even vaccinated adults, including vaccinated parents of children, to recommend Covid-19 vaccination for 5- to 11-year-olds.

That was in addition to general misconceptions about the safety of vaccines and vaccination.

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Claims that the vaccines change the recipient’s DNA and are riskier than contracting Covid-19 were said to be false.

Further claims that Covid-19 vaccines frequently cause allergic reactions and are responsible for thousands of deaths were said not to be evidence-based.

The above claims are Covid-specific misconceptions said to be considered in the study.

In January 2022, only about 55% of survey panellists reportedly said they were “very likely” to recommend vaccinating a child aged 5 to 11. And among parents of a child under the age of 18, the percentage was 44%.

The co-author, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who is also a director at the Annenberg Public Policy Centre, said, “concerns about vaccine safety are clearly a powerful predictor of reluctance to vaccinate oneself and children.”

“It is easy to understand why adults would be particularly concerned about adverse reactions, impacts on the DNA, the potential fertility of children, and the possibility that a vaccine might contain toxins or cause autism. Allaying these unwarranted concerns should be a public health priority,” Jamieson added.

Experience with the Covid-19 vaccines for children indicates that the vaccines protect against hospitalization for more than 20 weeks and can reduce the risk of infection.

The APPC study found less support for the Covid-19 vaccination of children among Black and Hispanic respondents, evangelical Christians, Republicans, and women, as well as the parents of children under 18.

This was said to be consistent with other work about adult vaccination hesitancy.

Science Daily reports that as of late September 2022, nearly 78% of U.S. adults but only 31% of children aged 5 to 11 had completed the primary set of vaccinations against Covid-19.

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