Infectious Disease

Recent study can ‘help guide discussions’ about pediatric COVID-19 vaccination

Source/Disclosures

sources:

Healio Interview.

Disclosures:
Heffernan reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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Key takeaways:

  • Parents value messaging about COVID-19 vaccination from other parents.
  • “We can think about this in terms of other routine childhood vaccinations as well,” an expert said.

WHO recently ended the COVID-19 global public health emergency — and the United States will soon lift its own emergency declarations — but questions about vaccination, especially for children, persist.

A new study published in Pediatrics examined COVID-19 vaccine messaging to parents about their children and found that parents with children who were not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 were more likely to vaccinate their child after hearing a positive testimonial from another parent. The message was found particularly effective among unvaccinated parents.

co-author Marie E. Heffernan, PhD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, discussed the findings with Healio.

Healio: WHO and the U.S are both ending their COVID-19 emergency declarations. What does that mean regarding the importance of COVID-19 vaccination in children?

Heffernan: Even as WHO and the United States end their COVID-19 emergency declarations, it remains critical that adults and children get vaccinated and stay up to date on COVID-19 boosters. Given the centrality of effective vaccination among children in controlling future waves of COVID-19 illness, discussions about COVID-19 vaccines are still some of the most important communications that pediatricians are providing to patients and families.

Healio: What is the best way to convince more parents to get their children vaccinated?

Heffernan: From our study, we see that parents really value what they hear from other trusted parents when it comes to decisions about vaccinating their children against COVID-19. Our results tell us that pediatricians might be more effective at changing minds if they mention, for example, that they encouraged their own family members to get vaccinated, rather than if they explain that the vaccine is well tolerated by children.

Parents also had higher intentions to vaccinate their child if they read a message that emphasized vaccine safety and the thorough testing process. But one message type — that emphasized that the vaccine was well tolerated with few side effects — was not effective at encouraging vaccination.

Healio: What can pediatricians do with your findings?

Heffernan: Pediatricians can use these findings to help guide their discussions with parents. This is important because given the short amount of time clinicians often have with patients and families, it is crucial to focus that time on messages that are most effective at promoting vaccination.

When there is a family who is questioning whether they should vaccinate, and the doctors and other clinicians know that there are other parents in their clinic who have decided to vaccinate their children and share the same background and/or experiences with the questioning family, it can be helpful to emphasize that parents who are like them have made the decision to vaccinate.

The current study was in the context of the COVID-19 vaccine for children, but we can think about this in terms of other routine childhood vaccinations as well, such as the influenza vaccine. I hope that these findings can help strengthen clinicians’ communications with patients and families and strengthen public health messaging to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations and other routine vaccinations among children.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and we wanted to understand if some message types would be better at reducing inequities in vaccination intentions among parents. One of the exciting results of this study was that racial and ethnic differences in parents’ intentions to vaccinate their children disappeared when parents received either the message about other trusted parents vaccinating their children or the message that emphasized the safety and thorough testing of the vaccine.

Editor’s note: Answers to common questions about COVID-19 vaccination can be found in this Healio discussion guide .

References:

Heffernan ME, et al. pediatrics. 2023;doi:10.1542/peds.2022-059191.

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