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Why parents remain divided about vaccinating kids against COVID-19

Doctor says state has done ‘good job’ getting kids vaccinated

Angel Aguilar, 8, laughs before getting a COVID-19 vaccination at Hillsdale Elementary School in West Valley City on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.
Angel Aguilar, 8, laughs before getting a COVID-19 vaccination at Hillsdale Elementary School in West Valley City on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. Utah parents with children under 18 continue to be split over getting them vaccinated against COVID-19, but only about a fifth are dead-set against the shots, according to the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah parents with children under 18 continue to be split over getting them vaccinated against COVID-19, but only about a fifth are dead-set against the shots, according to the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

And Utahns are also pretty evenly divided over whether the shots against the deadly virus should eventually be added to the list of vaccines required to attend school in the state, that includes chickenpox, polio, hepatitis and measles, mumps and rubella.

The poll comes as Utah is dealing with the state’s first cases of the new omicron variant of the virus, believed to be even more transmissible than the highly contagious delta variant responsible for the continued surge of cases in the state.

Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved COVID-19 booster shots, seen as added protection even against the omicron variant, for the nation’s 16- and 17-year-olds.

While COVID-19 vaccines have been available for nearly a year to anyone 16 and older, it wasn’t until May that 12- to 15-year-olds could get the shots and until last month that children 5 to 11 were eligible, too.

In Utah, nearly 22% of children 5 to 11 have already received the first of two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 55% of Utahns 12 to 18 are fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their second dose, compared to just over 57% of all Utahns.

“Utah has done quite a good job with child vaccinations,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

“It really shows Utah parents have been quite enthusiastic about vaccinating their children,” Pavia said, adding the state is ahead of the national average for childhood COVID-19 vaccinations but lags when it comes to adults getting the shots.

The reason, the doctor said, may be that “parents will do a lot to protect their children.”

COVID-19 continues to spread among Utah children, accounting for 229 of the 1,330 new cases announced Friday. More than 700 Utah children 14 and younger have been hospitalized with the virus, and two youths have died.

The poll found that about half of the parents with children under 18 said they’d either already gotten their children vaccinated or would as soon as they became eligible. About a fourth said they either want to wait to see how vaccinations go or are simply undecided.

Only about a fifth of the parents with children under 18 had made up their minds that their children would not be vaccinated against COVID-19. Just over half of the Utahns surveyed, 53%, did not have children under 18.

As for making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory to attend public school — something that hasn’t been proposed and can’t happen under the current federal emergency use authorization for youth vaccines — 45% of Utahns are in support and 49% are opposed.

The poll was conducted Nov. 18-30 for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics by Dan Jones & Associates of 812 registered Utah voters. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.44 percentage points.

The results on child COVID-19 vaccinations are similar to an October poll.

Alyssa McKay, an American Fork pharmacist, said all of her family’s five children, who range in age from 14 to 18, were vaccinated as soon as they became eligible. McKay said she never had any doubts about the shots.

“No. I had no questions or concerns. To me the benefits just far outweighed the risks. It was actually quite a relief to get everybody vaccinated,” she said. “We can do more things without masks, and I think we feel more confidence.”

None of her children suffered anything worse than a mildly sore arm after the shots, McKay said. “They’ve been very willing to get the vaccine even though they don’t like shots, they hate shots.”

The divided poll results are surprising, she said.

“We’re typically a well-educated, proactive state that cares about community and family, so it does make me sad,” McKay said. Still, she said she realizes some parents may not be ready to vaccinate their children.

“I think if they actually understood statistics, it would be less of a hard decision for parents to make. But there’s just so much misinformation or fear, a lot of fear,” McKay said, adding, “there has to be some consideration for the community as well.”

Her advice to other parents?

“If you’re on the fence, think about the people in your life that you are helping,” McKay said, especially those who are more vulnerable to the virus because of their age or health. “We don’t want to be that person that brought it home for the holidays.”

Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said the poll results were encouraging, particularly the number of parents with children under 18 who say they won’t get them vaccinated.

The state expects to come close to a goal of vaccinating a quarter of all 5- to 11-year-olds by mid-December, Hudachko said, the age group responsible for “the vast majority of cases — and it’s not even close” among school-age children.

Of the 229 new cases in K-12-aged youth reported Friday, more than half, 124, were 5 to 10 years old. He said that leads to “the reasonable conclusion” that more vaccinations mean “dramatically fewer cases” for children.

The concerns of parents who still aren’t convinced their children should be vaccinated against COVID-19 are real, Hudackho said.

“But we would hope those parents are looking at the data and asking questions of their pediatricians or their family care physicians,” he said, adding, “there’s enough data out there to show us that we believe the vaccine is having an impact on caseloads.”