Poll: Parents of Teenagers Express Doubt About Vaccine Safety, but Say ‘Normal’ Return to School Would Be Compelling

Nearly three in four American parents say they would be more likely to get their teenager vaccinated for COVID-19 if it meant they could return to school without mask requirements or social distancing, according to a new national poll conducted by the de Beaumont Foundation and pollster Frank Luntz. As the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine begins for children 12 and older and Moderna seeks FDA approval for teenagers, many parents say they are less confident in the vaccine’s safety for their child than they are for themselves. Nearly half (47%) said they believe the COVID-19 vaccine poses a greater risk to their children than the virus itself.

Only 24% said they would get their child vaccinated as soon as possible, and 16% said their child has already being vaccinated. Another 15% said they would get it only if their school required it, and 16% said they would “definitely not” get them vaccinated. As in recent national polling, hesitancy is higher among the GOP, with 26% saying their children will not get a COVID-19 vaccine.

A full 71% of all parents said they would be more likely to get their child vaccinated if in-person school could be “normal.” This finding crosses political lines, with 59% of Republicans saying this would make them more likely.

“We’ll be more effective if we can focus on returning to school as a benefit of getting vaccinated, rather than talking about vaccination as a requirement to resume regular schooling,” said Brian C. Castrucci, DrPH, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation. “In addition to the health benefits, we have an opportunity to explain that the vaccine can also benefit children academically and emotionally.”

“Parents are more reluctant about getting their children vaccinated than they are about getting the vaccine themselves,” Luntz said, “but they are also eager to get their children back to school without restrictions.”

Even more than preventing infection from the virus, parents value the benefit of ending COVID restrictions and their impact on children, and 45% said their child has definitely or probably experienced trauma over the past 16 months. Among 10 benefits and consequences that were tested, the most impactful argument (33%) was the ability to overcome the trauma on children associated with COVID restrictions. The second most impactful argument (31%) was parents’ ability to protect their children from real, unknown side effects of a COVID infection.

Other Findings

  • Doctors remain the most trusted sources. As other polling has shown across all populations, parents said that family doctors, pediatricians, and pharmacists will be the most influential in their decision about getting their child vaccinated.
  • The concerns about COVID vaccines are significant. When given a choice of two responses, only a slight majority of parents (53%) said the reward of protection from COVID outweighs the potential risk of the vaccine. The others (47%) said the risk of the vaccine outweighs the reward of protection.
  • Parents think COVID vaccines are less safe than other vaccines. While 87% of parents said vaccines for diseases like measles and mumps are safe for children, only 65% said the same about COVID vaccines.

  • Most parents oppose school requirements for COVID vaccines. Fifty-five percent of parents said children should be able to attend school without being vaccinated against COVIC-19, while 45% say vaccination should be required for all children.

Effective Messages

 Of 10 messages tested, parents said these would be the most convincing and compelling arguments for why parents should get their child vaccinated:

  • Vaccinating children can help the country reach herd immunity and can protect children from the mental and physical effects of lockdowns and other restrictions.
  • Parents can protect their children from needing hospitalization or have lasting COVID-19 symptoms. There are documented deaths in children due to COVID-19, and the long-term impact of the virus remains unknown.
  • Medical science has proven that other vaccines keep dangerous diseases and viruses away from our children. The COVID-19 vaccine is no different.
  • Vaccinated children can go back to school – in person and without masks – to get the education they want, need, and deserve.

Methodology

Pollster Frank Luntz conducted a national survey of parents to explore their likelihood of getting their teenage (or 12-year-old) children vaccinated for COVID-19, and to identify the most effective messages. The survey was conducted May 17-21, 2021, with 800 interviews and an additional 300 oversample of Black Americans and Latino parents. The demographic weights reflect U.S. Department of Education statistics on the nation’s parent population, including gender, age, ethnicity, public/private school enrollment, income, education level, and several other variables.