Israel's next target in its campaign to achieve COVID-19 herd immunity is to vaccinate children 12 and older. But while Israelis rushed to get vaccinated, setting a per-capita record for their country, it seems they have more reservations when it comes to their children.
A comprehensive survey conducted by the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis shows that less than 45 percent of parents of children under 18 said they will definitely vaccinate their children as soon as the vaccine is approved and available for this age group. Twenty-five percent of parents said they were considering it, and 30 percent said they would not vaccinate their children.
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The poll was conducted among 703 parents in cooperation with the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
As of now, only those aged 16 and older can be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Since Israel has 2.5 million children and teenagers younger than 18, it is impossible to reach herd immunity as long as they remain unvaccinated. But this is expected to change soon – vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca are now in advanced stages of trials with children of various ages, and Israel's vaccination drive is expected to expand to older children in the coming months.
Pfizer's clinical trials of the vaccine for children is at a further stage than its competitors. The pharmaceutical giant is expected to submit the findings of its studies on children aged 12 to 16 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April. If everything goes as planned, the FDA is likely to approve the vaccine for this age group within two to three weeks. Israel – which probably has enough Pfizer vaccines in its inventory – will be immediately able to start inoculating this age group with the same dosage as given to adults.
Prof. Zachi Grossman, the chairman of the Israel Pediatric Association, said that unlike the trials on adults, the trials for children are much simpler and shorter, and include far fewer subjects – only about 2,000 to 2,500.
“When you study children you only focus on safety and the level of antibodies, and not on efficacy because it's very rare to see severe illness in children," Grossman said.
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Grossman expects that as soon as May, before Israel's school summer holiday, children 12 and older could start receiving the vaccine. But there are still many obstacles along the way, because of objections – or at the very least reservations – expected form parents.
According to the survey, parents, even if they have been vaccinated themselves, are expected to have substantial reservations about vaccinating their children. In addition, 23 percent of parents who have not been inoculated said they would vaccinate their children.
The survey also found major differences among population groups – Israeli Arabs and new immigrants were the least likely to vaccinate their children, while almost half of respondents from the ultra-Orthodox traditional and secular Jewish communities said that they would vaccinate their children.
Another finding was that the higher the level of education and income of the parents – the higher the willingness to vaccinate their children.
Seventy-four percent of the parents who said they would not vaccinate their children named fear of long-term ramifications as the main reason. Forty-two percent of this group said they “preferred not to put medicines or chemicals into their children’s bodies," while 37 percent said they did not trust the pharmaceutical companies.
Furthermore, 29 percent said they did not trust the government that the vaccines are safe and 24 percent said that they did not believe they are effective. Only 10 percent said they refuse to vaccinate their children because “COVID is not dangerous,” while 12 percent said others being vaccinated would protect their children too.
Prof. Michal Grinstein-Weiss, who specializes in behavioral economics and is the director of the Social Policy Institute at Washington University, says the work of informing and convincing the parents to vaccinate their children could very well be even harder than at the beginning of the vaccination campaign for the adult population. This is partly because of the way the virus affects children – but also because people may decide to risk themselves, but are not willing to do so with their children.
Grinstein-Weiss added that in order to calm parents’ fears about the vaccine, it is necessary to provide much more data on its long-term effects, which will only be available in the distant future.