COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy doesn't spill over to routine childhood vaccinations, US polls reveal

In a recent article published in Health Affairs Forefront, researchers provided insights from United States (US) population opinion polling concerning the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on routine pediatric vaccinations, including vaccinations for tetanus, polio, and measles.

Report: Has COVID-19 Threatened Routine Childhood Vaccination? Insights From US Public Opinion Polls. Image Credit: Rohane Hamilton / ShutterstockReport: Has COVID-19 Threatened Routine Childhood Vaccination? Insights From US Public Opinion Polls. Image Credit: Rohane Hamilton / Shutterstock

Background

In recent times, anti-vaccine sentiments in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations have garnered immense media attention in the US, and there have been concerns over extended hesitancy towards regular childhood vaccinations. Anti-vaccine sentiments could disrupt parents’ and children’s willingness to vaccinate and threaten existing policies, which emphasize vaccination requirements for schooling across all US states and territories.

It has been reported that regular childhood vaccination rates were reduced during the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic. The reductions in vaccination rates were initially thought to have occurred due to disruptions in offline schooling and visits to healthcare facilities. However, the rates reduced even after health centers and schools began to re-conduct in-person activities, indicating that COVID-19 may have increased vaccination hesitancy.

In the present article, researchers analyzed US public opinion polls on the threat of COVID-19 to regular vaccinations for children.

The team included 21 national-level polls that were conducted prior to or through COVID-19 between 2015 and 2023 and met the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) quality standards. The team assessed views on vaccine safety, trust in vaccination-promoting population health centers, and backing for schooling policies stating mandatory vaccination requirements.

Vaccine safety and risks

The polls indicated that 35% to 42% of the United States population considers SARS-CoV-2 vaccines ‘very safe’ for children. Other polls indicated similar results; four out of ten or fewer adults expressed high-level confidence in COVID-19 vaccine safety for children. However, the polls indicate that the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines’ safety did not spill over to regular vaccines for children.

About 69% to 70% of the general public believed that routine childhood immunizations were safe for children. Information obtained from 4.0 polls performed in the US prior to and during COVID-19 (every three years between 2016 and 2022 and the current year) revealed that 85% to 88% of people agreed that the advantages of pediatric measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines outweighed the dangers. The sentiments were likewise partisan, with 86% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats holding identical views in 2023.

Notably, public perceptions towards regular pediatric vaccine safety improved throughout COVID-19, rising from 54% to 61% in pre-pandemic periods to 70% by the end of 2022 during the pandemic. Since standard immunizations were more common and had been widely used for several years before the release of the novel COVID-19 vaccines, regular childhood vaccines seemed safer.

Trust in population health authorities concerning vaccines and support for school-based vaccinations

Only 40% of United States adults had strong confidence in community health authorities to offer reliable data on teenage COVID-19 vaccination safety. Similarly, 25% to 28% of the general populace believed the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and 31 to 36% trusted the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to deliver credible data on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines during COVID-19.

Regular childhood vaccines, on the contrary, indicated no spillover; 54% of the general public trusted population health authorities to provide data on regular pediatric vaccines’ safety. Furthermore, from 37% in 2019 to 54% in 2022, trust in population health organizations to deliver accurate data on the safety of regular childhood vaccinations grew.

The public was divided before the 2022-2023 school year on whether pupils should be compelled to acquire a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for in-person schooling, with 47.0% to 52.0% not in favor of such schooling requirements. Of note, the opposition to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination requirements for students was 5.0% to 7.0% greater during the year prior to the 2022-2023 schooling year compared to the previous year by the United States public.

Polls showed spillover, as seen by fluctuations in support levels during COVID-19 and the factors motivating public opposition. From 2016 to 2019, 82% to 84% of United States adults said children must be immunized against diseases affecting children, including rubella, measles, and mumps, to continue offline schooling.

However, from 2019 to 2023, population-level support for the requirements fell by 10.0% to 12.0%. During the period, Republicans had significant declines in support, as did individuals who did not receive COVID-19 vaccines. Forty-nine percent of individuals believed that making decisions for their children should be left to the parents.

Conclusions

Based on the findings, there are no spillover effects from COVID-19 to routine childhood vaccines in the realms of trust and safety; the general population instead turned more positive concerning regular childhood vaccines during the pandemic, probably because the public contrasted the familiar vaccines with the new SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

However, the population turned increasingly negative concerning school needs for regular vaccines for children, with little support for mandates enforced during COVID-19, indicating spillover effects. The larger picture arising from polls conducted prior to and through COVID-19 is a widening disparity between public attitudes toward vaccines and vaccination policies. During COVID-19, Americans showed less anti-vaccination and more anti-mandated behavior.

Journal reference:
Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Written by

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is an oral and maxillofacial physician and radiologist based in Pune, India. Her academic background is in Oral Medicine and Radiology. She has extensive experience in research and evidence-based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.

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