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Will parents allow their children to roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine? 

Wednesday, Pfizer announced clinical trial results in 12-to-15-year-old study participants, of those who received the actual vaccine, not one got Covid. The data on children is critical. They make up at least 20 percent of the population. When it comes to achieving herd immunity, kids will be a key factor in the equation.

But despite the positive news, as public health experts push, parents may push back.

The numbers are in. Parents are more likely to vaccinate themselves than they are their children. Of the 900-plus moms and dads surveyed across the country, 70% plan to get or have already received the Covid vaccine. But when it comes to their kids, only 58% say they will probably or definitely vaccinate their children. Anxiety about unknown side effects and lack of long-term data top their concerns.  

Dr Matthew Davis is a pediatrician Lurie Children’s.

“We know as grown-ups that we’ve already experienced a lot and we can judge the risk. But as parents we’re that much more protective of our kids,” he said. “And if there are questions about longer-term outlook, then we may be a little more cautious when it comes to taking those necessary steps.

Looking more closely at the data, researchers at Parents Together, the family advocacy group that conducted the nationwide survey, noted disparities along income and racial lines.

When it comes to vaccine hesitancy, black or African American parents are nearly twice as likely to say they will probably not or definitely not vaccinate their children compared to other groups.

As for those who report they will definitely or probably get their children the shot, Asian American/Pacific Islander, white and Native American/Alaskan parents top the list at 75%, 65% and 61%, respectively. That’s compared to 53 % of Hispanic and 39% of black or African American parents. 

All groups noted some level of uncertainty.

“We know in general when it comes to parents’ questions about vaccines, they want to know how effective is the vaccine going to be in preventing the illness and what are the likely side effects of the vaccine for my child?” Davis said.

Davis said the latest numbers suggest a lower level of vaccination acceptance compared to what he found in his Chicago survey conducted last fall.

“It’s clear that in order to have a successful vaccination campaign among children and adolescents against COVID-19 we are going to have to earn parents trust among all communities and especially communities of color,” he said.

Aaron Holliday hopes his voice can make a difference in the conversation.

The 23-year-old who has spina bifida, a birth defect that impacts his mobility, has endured countless procedures and needle sticks. But he’s ready to roll up his sleeve for another.

“I have had a lot of things medically in my lifetime with Lurie, a lot of procedures and surgeries especially needles, involved in my life, so one might expect I’d be interested in opting out of something like this, but I’d say the opposite of that,” he said.

Now a college student, Holliday said addressing vaccine hesitancy is key. Born from past abuses like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, African American participants were not informed when an effective treatment – penicillin — became available. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cancer cells were used without her knowledge or consent to create what is now known as the HeLa cell line. Since that time, cells from the tobacco farmer and mother of five have been used in multiple research projects.

“While I understand the history behind something like that, I feel that this pandemic is affecting all of us as a whole and not just one ethnic community or one community in particular,” Holliday said. “So I think the solution should be just the same. And we all need to do our part in order to end this pandemic so we can all get back to the things we want to do most and be with the people we care about most.”

Ultimately, doctors would like to see Covid vaccination rates among children close to what they are for the flu – about 60% of parents get their kids vaccinated against influenza.