When her 12-year-old son became eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccination in June, Stephanie Martin hesitated. She wanted to see more long-term data on the vaccine’s safety for children. Hearing about friends’ children who experienced some side effects reinforced her desire to wait.
In recent weeks she has started to reconsider. She has seen news reports about the rapid spread of the Delta variant and children being hospitalized. And her son’s half-brother got infected with Covid-19 at summer camp, she says.
“That definitely has resurfaced the thought of going ahead and getting him vaccinated,” says Ms. Martin, a 49-year-old flight attendant in Orlando, Fla., who got vaccinated herself in the spring. “I feel that we will probably be making a decision soon.”
Doctors say the surge of the more-contagious Delta variant, rising and sometimes serious cases in children and adolescents, and the start of the school year are prompting more parents to consider getting their children vaccinated. They also say some parents of children under 12 who aren’t yet eligible for the shots are more eager than ever.
The number of children and adolescents under 18 receiving their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine increased in each of the past four weeks ended Aug. 11, according to a summary of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. More than 500,000 children received their first vaccine dose in the week ended Aug. 11, though that remains far below the weekly peak of 1.6 million Covid-19 doses in children recorded at the end of May.
About 42% of American 16- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated and 53% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among 12- to 15-year-olds, 31% are fully vaccinated and 43% have received at least one dose.
Hina J. Talib, an associate professor of pediatrics and adolescent-medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York, says she has heard from more parents rethinking their initial hesitation about vaccination for their children.
“I can feel the pulse of parents has changed, has quickened, in the last two weeks with the wave of Delta marching through little people and adolescents in a way we hadn’t seen before,” says Dr. Talib. “In their minds, it went from a theoretical risk to actual infections and actual stories being shared both from parents and pediatricians.”
The number of Covid-19 cases in children has steadily increased since the beginning of July, according to the AAP. There was a 4% increase in the number of child Covid-19 cases between July 22 and Aug. 5.
Pediatric hospitalizations for the virus have also been rising rapidly, according to CDC data. The seven-day average of child hospitalizations between Aug. 7 and Aug. 13 was 272, up from the previous seven-day average of 223. Children still make up a small proportion of all hospitalizations, comprising roughly 1.5% to 3.5% of total Covid-19 hospitalizations among states reporting such data, according to the AAP weekly report.
A monthly survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows growing numbers of parents reporting their children have been vaccinated, although a substantial number of parents are against vaccination. In a survey conducted between July 15 and Aug. 2, 41% of parents of 12- to 17-year-olds reported their children had gotten the shots, compared with 34% in June and 24% in May.
“Wait-and-see” parents may simply be pausing a month or two to look out for reports of side effects, says Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research for the organization. But there are still about 20% of parents who say they definitely won’t get their child vaccinated, she notes.
For parents of children between 5 and 11 years old, attitudes didn’t shift much, Kaiser’s research suggests, although Ms. Hamel notes that this round of the survey ended Aug. 2, so it didn’t capture any increase in concern in the past two weeks. Twenty-six percent said they will get their child inoculated when a vaccine is authorized; 40% said they will wait and see; 25% said they definitely won’t get their child vaccinated, and 9% said they will do so only if the shots are required.
Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. are conducting clinical trials and will seek authorization for vaccines for children under 12 in the U.S. Pfizer has said it expects to have trial results and seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for children 5 to 11 years old in September. For kids ages six months to 5 years, the company is targeting the end of the year for trial results and an authorization request. Moderna has said it expects to seek emergency authorization for children under 18 at the end of the year or beginning of 2022.
The FDA’s timeline for authorizing either vaccine remains uncertain. In July, the agency asked Pfizer and Moderna to increase the number of children ages 5 to 11 in their studies to better detect potential side effects. It isn’t clear how the request might affect timing of the FDA’s decision.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged the FDA to authorize a Covid-19 vaccine for children under 12 as soon as possible. “Simply stated, the Delta variant has created a new and pressing risk to children and adolescents across this country, as it has also done for unvaccinated adults,” wrote AAP President Lee Savio Beers in an Aug. 5 letter.
Florida is among the hardest-hit states. “We have seen more cases of children being hospitalized [in Jacksonville] from Covid-19 than any time in the pandemic,” says Mobeen Rathore, chief of infectious disease at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. In July there were 96 children hospitalized at Wolfson due to Covid-19, he says. The previous high was 58 in January. The result, he says, “is a bigger interest in getting eligible children immunized.”
There is also greater interest in a clinical trial he is involved with looking at the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in children under 12. “We can’t keep up” with all the emails coming in, he says.
Candice Jones, a pediatrician in Orlando, says school reopening has helped shift attitudes, as has being able to give the vaccines to her patients in the office. “As more offices are able to supply and provide the vaccine, I think that adds another layer of trust for families—having their child vaccinated in their pediatric office with their trusted provider,” Dr. Jones says.
“It’s the familiar doctor; it’s the familiar nurses,” Dr. Jones adds. “There is a seal of approval. That is something that will convey confidence to parents.”