U.S. Parents’ Views Are Shifting on Vaccines, Poll Finds

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About one in four U.S. parents report that a child of theirs had to quarantine at home because of a possible exposure to Covid-19 since the beginning of the school year, according to the latest findings of a monthly survey about vaccine attitudes by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That is even as two-thirds of parents say they feel that their school is taking appropriate measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The report suggests that many parents are conflicted about which courses of action will keep their children both healthy and educated.

Even among parents who have received at least one vaccine dose, 18 percent do not think schools should require all staff and students to wear masks, a view held by 63 percent of unvaccinated parents. Overall, 58 percent of parents say that schools should have comprehensive mask requirements, 35 percent say there should be no mask mandates at all, and 4 percent believe that only unvaccinated students and staff should be compelled to wear masks, according to the report.

Over the summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all students, teachers and staff members in elementary and secondary schools wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status, to allow as many students as possible to return to in-person instruction.

Kaiser conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,519 people from Sept. 13 to Sept. 22 — a time of surging Covid deaths — and was mostly completed before Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their coronavirus vaccine was safe and effective for children aged 5 to 11. No vaccine is currently authorized in the United States for children under 12. Of all the people who were polled, 414 identified themselves as parents of children 17 or younger, and were included in the analysis of parents’ responses.

The Pfizer vaccine, already in use for older children and adults, was authorized in mid-May for children aged 12 to 15, and the report suggests that over time, parents of children in that age group and older are slowly becoming more comfortable with it. By the time of the September interviews, 48 percent said that their children between the ages 12 to 17 had gotten at least one dose, up from 41 percent in July. According to federal data, 57 percent of that age group has received at least one dose.

And perhaps prompted by a constellation of factors, including rising numbers of children hospitalized because of the Delta variant as well as seeing older vaccinated children remain healthy, parents of children aged 5 to 11 increasingly report favoring the vaccine as well.

Thirty-four percent of those parents say now that they will have their children vaccinated as soon as they can, up from 26 percent in July. Commensurately, parental hesitation is beginning to melt: In September, with school open, 32 percent of parents of those younger children said they preferred to “wait and see” before making a decision about vaccinating them, down from 40 percent in July.

Of note, the share of parents of children aged 5 to 17 who insist that they will “definitely not” vaccinate their children has scarcely budged in months, suggesting that they will be the most difficult to persuade. In April, 22 percent of parents of the older cohort, ages 12 to 17, said they would definitely not have their children get shots; in September, 21 percent reported holding the same view. Parents of younger children are similarly adamant: in July, 25 percent said “definitely not” position, and in September, 24 percent did.

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