COVID-19 Vaccination

Although COVID-19 Kills Children Vaccination Lags

Between 2021 and 2022, COVID-19 was a leading cause of death in children and young people in the U.S. It caused the death of at least 821 children and young people aged 0 to 19 years, over the 1-year period from August 1, 2021, to July 31, 2022.  COVID-19 ranked eighth among all causes of deaths, fifth in disease-related causes of deaths (excluding unintentional injuries, assault, and suicide), and first in deaths caused by infectious or respiratory diseases. COVID-19 deaths constituted 2%of all causes of death in this age group.

The data on mortality from COVID-19 among children indicates that pharmaceutical and public health interventions remain important to limit the spread of the coronavirus and protect children and young people against severe COVID-19 disease. With variants of COVID-19 continuing to circulate, public health measures such as vaccinations, staying at home when sick, and ventilation still have an important role to play in limiting transmission of the virus and mitigating severe disease in children and young people.

Although a vaccine that’s 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 illness in children is available many parents are reluctant to vaccinate their children according to the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Of those surveyed in December 2023 about vaccination coverage and intent for vaccination of their children age 6 months through 17 years, 36% indicated that they will probably or definitely not get their children vaccinated against COVID-19. The study found that 40% of those surveyed probably will get or are unsure about vaccination; 13% definitely will and 10.7% were up-to-date with the recommended vaccine for 2023-2024.

An earlier survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), found that only 27% of parents of 5- to 11-year-olds planned to immunize their children against COVID-19, 30% said they definitely won’t, and one-third of parents said they’ll “wait and see” before deciding how to proceed.

COVID-19 vaccine reluctance is greater than for other immunizations. The CDC reports that more than 90% of US children up to age 24 months are immunized via injection against several diseases, including measles, mumps, and rubella; almost 93% have received at least 3 of the 4 recommended injections of polio vaccine. And approximately 95% of kindergarteners had received state-required vaccines for the 2019-2020 school year.

So why are parents more hesitant when it comes to the COVID-19? According to the KFF survey, for many the reason seems to be lack of familiarity with the vaccines and fear of serious near-term or long-term harm. Immunization to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella has been in use since the 1960s. Another important reason is that unlike parents of earlier eras, today’s parents are more likely be inundated with social media and internet anti-vaccination messages promoting misinformation about or mistrust in vaccines.

Clinical trials have considered the vaccine’s safety in children and found that adolescents have a slightly elevated risk of myocarditis—inflammation of the heart muscle. In June 2021, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices determined that the benefits of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines outweigh their risks, including that of postvaccination myocarditis, for children age 12 or older. Other adverse effects among children and teens are similar: mild to moderate headaches and fatigue that resolve within days. Flulike symptoms such as fever and nausea sometimes occur, but they also tend to resolve quickly.

The KFF data and other research shows that pediatricians are among the most trusted sources of information on vaccine safety and a good starting point for parents to get information on all vaccines.

Suran M. Why Parents Still Hesitate to Vaccinate Their Children Against COVID-19. JAMA. 2022;327(1):23–25. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.21625
Hammel L, Lopes L et al. KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: October 202
Published: Oct 28, 2021. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/kff-covid-19-vaccine-monitor-october-2021/
CDC https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Provisional-COVID-19-Deaths-Focus-on-Ages-0-18-Yea/nr4s-juj3/data_preview
Flaxman S, Whittaker C, Semenova E, et al. Assessment of COVID-19 as the Underlying Cause of Death Among Children and Young People Aged 0 to 19 Years in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(1):e2253590. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.53590
Child Coverage and Parental Intent for Vaccination https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/coverage/covidvaxview/interactive/children-coverage-vaccination.html

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