Katie Kurutz-Ulloa | First 5 LA Communications Specialist

September 29, 2022

When the COVID-19 vaccine was first approved in early 2021, it was only available to a fraction of the population, who, wanting relief from the terror of the pandemic, flocked in droves to mass vaccine sites to receive their first shot. But a lot has changed since then. Pandemic fatigue, misinformation, a drop in death rates thanks to the vaccine being widely available, and other factors have muted that original urgency. Now, as very young children become the last group eligible to receive the vaccine, many parents are asking – do they really need it, and is it even safe? The answer to both is yes, but there is work to be done to ease parents’ concerns.  

The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of coronavirus vaccines for children 6 months to 5 years in June, however, according to The Washington Post, only approximately 325,000 young children, fewer than 4 percent, are fully vaccinated nationwide as of September. And while pediatricians anticipated some hesitancy, they were not expecting it to this degree. “The youngest kids were the ones who were tested the last. And I think that the message that parents got through that process is that it wasn’t so important,” said Sallie Permar, chair of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine, trying to explain the extreme hesitancy to Scientific American.  

The low numbers have pediatricians and others concerned. While throughout the pandemic, young children have shown fewer and less severe symptoms when infected with COVID-19, there have been enough instances to warrant the vaccine. USA Today reports that about 100 children a week were hospitalized in July due to COVID-19, with the majority being children under 4; and according to the CDC, 543 children under 4 have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, one in 3,000 to 4,000 kids have been hospitalized with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) caused by COVID-19, and it is unclear how many young children might get “long haul” symptoms

Still, even with the threat of illness, many parents are reluctant. The Kaiser Health Foundation conducted a poll in July, showing that 43 percent of parents said they will “definitely not” get their eligible child under 5 vaccinated for COVID-19. The majority cited concerns over the newness of the vaccine, questioning its safety, with some sharing there is little concern if their child gets infected. The reluctance also split along political lines, with more “Republican-leaning” parents saying they would not get their child vaccinated. The political split was also reflected in the number of under 5 vaccines ordered by states, with red states like Florida not ordering any, much to the chagrin of some parents.  

Perhaps even more concerning, however, is the COVID-19 vaccine reluctance spilling over into overall vaccine hesitancy. In an interview with the Financial Times, Dr. Anthony Fauci shared his worry that the “anti-vax” attitude will begin to impact routine early childhood vaccines for children, which have already taken a hit. EdSource reports that this school year more than 1 in 8 California students ages 4 to 6 did not have their measles, mumps and rubella vaccination — which the state requires for school enrollment – due to families falling behind on wellness checkups, vaccine fatigue and increased vaccine hesitancy. 

These reports are coming in at the same time as a New York man contracted the first case of polio in 10 years. Polio was thought to be eradicated thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccine, which is now administered in early childhood as part of a routine vaccine schedule. Anti-vax movements have reduced heard immunity in some areas, however, creating conditions for the virus to spread, said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen in an interview. In an op-ed for U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Sterling Ransone, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, implores parents to keep up with routine immunizations, stating, “after all that we’ve done to combat COVID-19 and protect public health, we can’t let diseases from the 20th century make a comeback.”  

In Los Angeles County, the Department Public Health has partnered with local agencies to combat misinformation and help parents feel more comfortable with the COVID-19 vaccine for young children. You can view the first Town Hall hosted by LACDPH here. First 5 LA is also working in partnership with LACDPH to share correct information about the vaccine for young children. Follow us on social media to learn more.  

To help our readers learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine for young children, hesitancy among parents, and the challenges with vaccine hesitancy we have compiled a list of articles below. We hope these assist you in understanding this evolving issue.   

6 month – 5 yrs Covid Vaccine  

Washington Post: Covid shots for young kids arrived in June. Few have received them.
In June, when the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of coronavirus vaccines for children younger than 5, physicians expected apprehension among parents — after all, 4 in 10 parents with young children said they would definitely not get their youngsters vaccinated, according to a July Kaiser Family Foundation survey. (Malhi, 9/18/22)  

Scientific American: Why So Few Young Kids Are Vaccinated against COVID—And How to Change That
A small fraction of young children in the U.S. are vaccinated against COVID. Pediatricians can help. (Lewis, 9/7/22) 

USA Today: COVID vaccination in kids under 5 remain low as US hospital admissions steadily rise
Although a recent study from Pfizer showed its COVID-19 vaccine is effective at protecting children younger than 5, pediatricians are having a hard time persuading parents to vaccinate their youngest kids. (Rodriguez, 8/25/22)

Politico: Covid vaccine drive for youngest kids off to underwhelming start, data shows
Hesitant parents and challenging logistics are slowing the effort to get the nation’s youngest protected against Covid-19. (Doherty, 9/1/22) 

U.S. News & World Report: Pfizer’s COVID Vaccine 73.2% Effective in Kids Under 5, New Data Shows
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s vaccine was 73.2% effective in preventing COVID-19 among children aged 6 months through 4 years, new data from the companies showed on Tuesday, two months after the U.S. rollout of the shots began for that age group. (Reuters, 8/23/22) Also seen in The Hill, Bloomberg. 

New York Times: The Abysmal Covid Vaccination Rate for Toddlers Speaks Volumes
You would think that vaccination sites would have been swamped with parents rushing to vaccinate their young children against Covid after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccines for the under-5 age group in June. (Carroll, 8/18/22) 

New York Times: Few Parents Intend to Have Very Young Children Vaccinated Against Covid
In a new survey, 43 percent of parents of children ages 6 months through 4 years said they would refuse the shots for their kids. An additional 27 percent were uncertain. (Hoffman, 7/26/22) Also seen in The 19th, The Hill, CNN.  

POLITICO: Low demand for young kids’ Covid vaccines is alarming doctors
Alabama and Mississippi are among states expecting few young children will get the shots soon. (Mhahr & Gardner, 7/14/22) 

San Diego Union-Tribute: Opinion: COVID-19 vaccination is approved for babies. As a pediatrician, here’s why I recommend it.
COVID-19 has caused more than 2 million infections among children ages 6 months to 4 years old and is associated with 20,000 hospitalizations. (Bradley, 7/13/22) 

LAist: The Youngest Babies Still Can’t Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19, But Maternal Vaccination Can Protect Them
Palmdale mom Sasha Alonso knew she was going to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but she was pregnant when she became eligible for the shot last year and hesitated to sign up. (Dale, 7/12/22) 

ABC: Are states ordering enough COVID vaccine doses for children under 5?
States are continuing to order vaccines as they expect infections to increase. (Kekatos, 7/11/22) 

New York Times: As vaccines for younger U.S. children roll out, the effects on day care centers may be muted.
Federal action to make children older than 6 months eligible for vaccines not only affects parents but also day care centers, which have struggled throughout the pandemic. (Hassen/Chung, 7/1/22) 

The Guardian: After the long wait, US parents seeking under-5s’ vaccine face yet more hurdles
Some local officials are unsure of how to order Covid vaccines or when they will arrive, while others are aiming to ignore federal guidelines completely. (Schreiber, 7/6/22) 

The San Fernando Valley Sun: San Fernando Valley Parents Share Their Views On COVID-19 Baby Vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine for the youngest children brings parental vaccine hesitancy to the surface; healthcare providers hope information will ease parents concerns. (Martinez, 6/29/22) 

Student Vaccinations  

Forbes: Fauci Warns Pandemic-Era ‘Anti-Vaxxer Attitude’ Could Hurt Child Vaccination Rates
Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Financial Times he’s worried the vaccine skepticism that surged during the Covid-19 pandemic could affect childhood immunization rates for other viruses and result in the resurgence of “avoidable and unnecessary outbreaks” of childhood diseases as cases of polio and measles make comebacks across the country. (Porterfield, 9/18/22) 

EdSource: Thousands without childhood vaccinations unable to return to school
Falling childhood vaccination rates during the pandemic meant that thousands of students were unable to start the school year on a campus because they did not have the immunizations required by the state. (Lambert, 9/1/22)  

Washington Post: Student vaccinations slowed during covid. Can schools catch them up?
Wendy Hasson, a pediatric intensive care physician in Oregon, knows the tragedy that can befall an unimmunized child. (St. George, 8/26/22) 

U.S. News & World Report: This Back-to-School Season, We Can’t Forget Lifesaving Immunizations
COVID-19, measles outbreaks and the reemergence of polio highlight the importance of not rolling the dice with your children’s health. (Ransone Jr., 8/24/22)  

CNN: Opinion: What petrifies me about sending my kids to school this year
As parents like me get ready to send our kids back to school this fall, we’re required to submit paperwork proving that our children are up to date on their routine childhood vaccinations. (Alaimo, 8/3/22) 

The New York Times: Sharp Drop in Childhood Vaccinations Threatens Millions of Lives
Pandemic lockdowns, misinformation campaigns, conflicts, climate crises and other problems diverted resources and contributed to the largest backslide in routine immunization in 30 years.
(Nolen, 7/14/22)
Also featured in The Washington Post, Quartz, Forbes, Bloomberg

Return of Polio  

CNN: Polio has reemerged in the US. Who should get a polio vaccine now?
New York’s governor has declared a state of emergency after health officials detected poliovirus in the wastewater of five counties – evidence the disease is circulating. (Chakraborty, 9/16/22) 

Washington Post: Polio is back. This is a warning not to forsake vaccines.
The virus that causes polio is highly contagious. It spreads person-to-person through contact with the feces of an infected person or droplets from a sneeze or cough, and less often with contaminated water and food. (Editorial Board, 8/23/22) 

Los Angeles Times: Biggest polio threat in years sparks alarms from New York to California.
Delays in getting children vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic and antivaccination sentiment in general may be fueling the most serious threat of polio in the U.S. in years, raising alarms from New York to California. (Lin & Money, 8/13/22) 

ABC: Less than 60% of kids are vaccinated against polio in some NYC neighborhoods
Experts worry about low vaccination rates as the virus reemerges in the city. (Guilfoil, 8/19/22) 

NPR: Your Vaccine Questions Answered
COVID vaccines are available to children as young as six months old. Still, plenty of parents and caretakers have questions before they get their children the jab. (Consider This, 7/6/22) 

EdSource: Judge rules against L.A. Unified’s vaccine mandate, which remains on pause
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that L.A. Unified does not have the authority to require students to be vaccinated to attend school, that only the state does, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday. (Tadayon, 7/6/22) 

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