A new survey of parents conducted over the past two weeks suggests that 44 percent intend to vaccinate their 5-to 11-year-old children as the drive to inoculate this group gets underway.
The survey, by Dr. Amiel Dror of the Galilee Medical Center and Bar-Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine in Safed, indicates that some 440,000 children out of a million in Israel will be vaccinated. The survey is the largest of its sort to date, and included 3,817 respondents, all of them parents to children aged 5-11.
The study surveyed the general public, but included 1,124 doctors from hospitals and community clinics around the country who are also parents to children aged 5-11. Another 856 nurses with young children in the same facilities were also polled.
The survey showed that concerns over vaccinations for young children exist to a lesser degree among healthcare professionals. Some 81 percent of physicians reported that they would vaccinate their children, although only 56 percent of nurses surveyed said they would. “We have no explanation for this gap,” said Dror. “They see the same patients and are exposed to the same system.”
Launched on Tuesday, the vaccination drive will only succeed if parents are on board. Experience shows that the younger the child, the greater the hesitancy to have them vaccinated. When dealing with young children, where the risk is lower and less tangible, many parents prefer to wait.
The survey showed that willingness to vaccinate children is lower in the Arab community: Only 34 percent of Israeli Arabs said they planned to vaccinate their children, compared with 47 percent of Jews.
Some 77 percent of parents who said they would not vaccinate their children have had at least one dose of the vaccine themselves.
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“The main and most common reason parents cited when they say they wouldn’t vaccinate their children is that the virus doesn’t cause severe illness in children. The second reason is concern about the vaccine’s safety and side effects,” said Dror, adding that in a survey regarding adults’ willingness to be vaccinated, safety was the leading reason cited for refraining or hesitating to get vaccinated.
The surveys showed that those refusing to vaccinate their children feel strongly about it. Vaccine refusers that were asked, “If not getting the vaccine means that your children will need to take COVID tests every day or every two days to attend school, will you vaccinate them?” responded no in the majority of cases. Some even said they would homeschool their children if they had to.
While 81 percent of physicians said they would vaccinate their children, the fact that almost a fifth of doctors and almost half of nurses intend not to is troubling. According to Dror, the medical professionals have the same qualms as the general public.
Fear of illness was not a top concern for parents who said they would vaccinate their children. The most common reason given for vaccinating was to enable parents and children to return to a normal life.
“The issue of returning to your routine and economic security was prominent in the answers of parents who said they intend to vaccinate their children,” said Dror. “In free-text replies, many noted leisure and social activities, and the wish to attend concerts, movies or family events. Some parents noted loss of workdays and the inability to foresee absences due to illness and quarantines. Medical and epidemiological reasons were negligible.”
The survey asked those intending to vaccinate their children what would most encourage them to act quickly. The most frequent answer was getting the vaccination from their children’s physician or a familiar nurse in their clinic. Other factors cited were the presence of a pediatrician at the vaccination facility, getting a day off to get their children vaccinated and spend the day with them, transport to the vaccination facility and back, as well as vaccines delivered at home or nearby.
The survey’s results are consistent with other assessments of the public's response to vaccinating children. Earlier this week Dr. Sharon Elroy-Preis, the head of the Public Health Services, said Health Ministry surveys had forecast a 40 to 50 percent uptake for child vaccines. Sources in the ministry said they would regard 50 percent as an achievement. Still, the figures are low, given that Israel’s vaccination rates for routine childhood vaccines are in the range of 95 percent to 98 percent.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry’s Facebook page called on parents to consult their pediatricians about vaccinated their children. But the post garnered only 91 shares, compared with 1.1 million comments, most of them negative and some vitriolic and violent.
While it is hard to deduce from social media the scope of the phenomenon offline, the vaccination drive begins at a time when the head of the Public Health Services has been assigned bodyguards, and public discourse on vaccines has broken out of the medical-scientific arena. The child-vaccination drive faces considerable distrust.