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Vaccine Hesitancy Among Parents Could Be Vaccination Obstacle For Children

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here in the United States, the FDA is expected soon to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children age 12 to 15. They will be able to use it so long as their parents approve. David Lazer has been looking into that part of it. He found evidence that some parents are concerned. He is co-director of The COVID States Project, which researches links between social behaviors and virus transmission. Good morning, sir.

DAVID LAZER: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So based on your research, are most parents ready to take their kids to get vaccinated?

LAZER: Most parents are, but there is a minority of parents, around 1 in 5, who are strongly vaccine resistant, that they say they are very unlikely to get their children vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk through the attitudes you found in that 1 out of 5 parents. Are they simply people who chose not to get the vaccine for themselves and the decision is the same for their kids?

LAZER: We do see a strong relationship between people's decision for themselves as for their children. But we also see some things that are special in terms of the decision-making for children, for example, a big difference between mothers and fathers.

INSKEEP: Oh, what is the difference between mothers and fathers?

LAZER: We see mothers tend to be more vaccine resistant than fathers. So roughly almost a third of younger mothers, for example, are - say they're unlikely to vaccinate their children. And it's around a quarter for older mothers, whereas for fathers, the vaccine resistance is at around 11%. So there's actually a very big difference between mothers and fathers.

INSKEEP: Why would it be that younger mothers would be any more reluctant to get their kids vaccinated than other people?

LAZER: We don't really have a definitive answer in the data. We're looking into it. It may be that younger mothers are differently situated in terms of the information needed to decide whether to get their children vaccinated. And it also may be that younger mothers are more of a target, for example, for anti-vax misinformation. So that's exactly the question that we are looking at.

INSKEEP: What can public health officials do about this?

LAZER: I think that it does point to the need to target communication efforts to particular populations that are vaccine skeptical and I think, for example, younger mothers. And I think that's one of the key takeaways, it's not an easy thing to do, and whether that's through communicating with pediatricians or encouraging mothers to talk to their children's doctors. The data also show that just the importance of doctors as being - and primary caregivers as being a key conduit for providing information and persuading people that it is safe to get vaccinated.

INSKEEP: So this is a group of people that you can't just tell everyone to come to the mass vaccination site. They need to hear from someone such as a physician whom they trust.

LAZER: Exactly. And I think this is also a lesson for where we are in the vaccination effort more generally, which is there is sort of this fast lane of, you know, everyone who wants to get vaccinated goes to the mass vax site. And that's where we've been up till now. But now we're shifting to what I call the slow lane effort where it's going to go more slowly because the people who need to get vaccinated need to have conversations. They probably need to talk to their doctors. They need to be more engaged, as well as perhaps reduce some of the obstacles to getting vaccinated. So I think that we're in that sort of slow lane of the vaccination effort or that's sort of what we're shifting to right now.

INSKEEP: David Lazer is a computational social scientist at Northeastern and Harvard Universities and co-director of The COVID States Project. Thank you, sir.

LAZER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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