The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected soon to approve the giving of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 to children aged five to 11 years after previously recognizing its safety and efficacy in youths and adults aged 12 years and over.
The Israeli government, a pioneer in offering the vaccine free to all eligible residents, will deliberate such approval and is expected to supply the vaccine – at a third of the regular dose – to small children. Such a decision would significantly reduce the infection rates – and complications of corona – among kindergarten and elementary school children here if enough parents decide to bring their children for vaccination.
During the current pandemic, there have been 150 children – 50 of them during the current but dwindling fourth wave – who had mild cases of COVID-19 but a few weeks later developed PIMS Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory) Syndrome with organ failure; some of the children died. In addition, school closures in the past year and a half have deprived millions of pupils in Israeli pre-schools, kindergartens and elementary and high schools of in-person studies, causing a decline in their educational level and emotional strength.
A new survey conducted by Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv) has revealed that a majority of Israeli parents who have children between the ages of five and 11 would agree to have them vaccinated against COVID-19 if the FDA approves the vaccine for this age group.
The survey was carried out between September 23 and October 3 by Dr. Liora Shmueli, of the Program for Public Health and Health Systems Management at BIU’s department of management. The Sarid Research Institute for Research Services assisted in conducting an online survey, which included a representative sample among the Jewish public in Israel.
Eight hundred ninety-four mothers and fathers above the age of 18 participated. Preliminary results indicate that more than half of the parents (57%) expressed their intention to vaccinate their children this winter if a vaccine is approved and available.
Demographically, there were significant differences between men and women (65% versus 51%, respectively), parents over the age of 40 vs. those younger than 40 (64% vs. 50%, respectively), academic degree vs. non-academic degree (60% vs. 53%, p<0.05, respectively), and higher-than-average incomes compared to those below average and average (67% vs. 52%, and 53%, respectively).
No significant differences were discovered among religious denominations, according to marital status or according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics’ Peripherality Index that measures gaps between Israel’s center and peripheries, regarding the intention to vaccinate.
Interestingly, parents whose children received the flu vaccine last winter expressed significantly higher willingness to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 this winter than those whose children did not receive the flu vaccine (68% vs. 48%, respectively). Parents who were vaccinated against coronavirus themselves were more willing to vaccinate their children aged five to 11 compared to those parents who were not vaccinated (61% vs. 6%, , respectively).
Just six percent of the parents surveyed said that they have not been vaccinated and don’t intend to be vaccinated. Respondents who have children aged 12 to 15 who have already been vaccinated expressed greater intention to vaccinate their children aged five to 11 compared to those whose children aged 12 to 15 were not vaccinated (55% vs. 44%, , respectively).
How quickly will parents have their children vaccinated if the vaccine is approved and available? Twenty-seven percent of parents said they would vaccinate immediately, within less than one month; 27% said within one to three months; and 24% responded that they would wait (17% would vaccinate within four to 12 months, 7% would wait more than a year). Twenty-three percent responded that they would not vaccinate their children in this age group at all.
Sixty-six percent of the respondents who said they would not vaccinate their children immediately or at all if the vaccine is offered to them expressed concern about vaccine safety, 61% reported fear of severe vaccine side effects, and 57% expressed fear that clinical trials and the approval process were carried out too quickly for political reasons.
Additional concerns that arose among parents included the feeling that COVID “isn’t dangerous for children, so there is no reason to vaccinate them,” as well as fear that “the vaccine is not effective.” Others said they prefer to wait and see how children in this age group respond to the vaccine.
The survey ranked a number of incentives that could speed up parents’ readiness to vaccinate their children, including a “green” passport, which would facilitate travel abroad (60%) and administering the vaccine within the school system (50%). In contrast, most respondents said that monetary compensation or fines (such as a cut in National Insurance benefits) would not increase their intent to have their children aged five to 11 vaccinated (57% and 64%, respectively).