A study in Pediatrics in May 2023 explores the effects of different messaging angles on parents’ intentions to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. Although no longer classified as a PHEIC by WHO, COVID-19 continues to cause global problems, particularly to vulnerable populations. The authors suggest that “persistent vaccine hesitancy” is believed to be “particularly pronounced among parents”, thus “hampering” efforts to control the pandemic 

“Although vaccination of adults, adolescents, and children is ongoing, vaccinating children will be key.” 

Among the obstacles to this effort, previous research has suggested that “fewer than one-half of parents are likely to vaccinate their children” against the disease. Understanding how to persuade more parents to vaccinate their children, therefore, is “imperative”. In the population-based survey, the researchers test the effectiveness of different types of messaging. The approach is useful because it enables the assessment of a “large population of interest” whilst “randomly assigning respondents to conditions”. It has been used for vaccination intention research in the past as well as other studies of parental intentions related of other areas of child health.  

Data collection 

Through the Voices of Child Health in Chicago (VOCHIC) Paret Panel Survey, data were collected. Parent inclusion was based on being over 18 years old and living in Chicago, as well as being the parent of guardian of at least 1 child aged up to 17. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish, either online or by telephone, between October and November 2021.  

Parents who answered that they had at least 1 child who was not yet vaccinated were randomly assigned to read 1 of 4 distinct messages about the COVID-19 vaccines. The study tested message types that are described as “familiar from paediatric and public health approaches”: 

  • The COVID-19 vaccine is well-tolerate by children, with few side effects 
  • The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and tested 
  • Trusted parents are vaccinating their children against COVID-19 
  • A control condition that provided information about the anticipated timeline for authorisation of vaccine in children 

Following this message, parents were asked “how likely are you to get your child(ren) vaccinated against COVID-19?”. Response options were “very likely”, “somewhat likely”, and “not likely”. Surveys were completed by 1142 parents who reported on 1977 children. The research in question is based on responses from 898 parents about 1453 children who had not yet been vaccinated.  

What does the study find? 
“Overall, parents’ intentions to vaccinate children were higher if a parent received the trusted parents message compared with a control condition.” 

For a more detailed breakdown of the results, click here to view the study. The authors call for future research to evaluate the messages to determine the “precise change” in vaccination intentions. They also acknowledge that as the parents in the sample are from a “major US city”, attitudes may differ to those who reside in “suburban or rural settings”.  

The study indicates that the most effective messages to encourage parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 were centred on “other trusted parents” deciding to do the same. Messages that addressed the safety and testing history “may also be effective”. The researchers acknowledge that the findings may not be applicable in a “clinical context”, where it “may not be feasible for clinicians” to refer to trusted parents. 

“Given the continuing pandemic and the centrality of effective vaccination among children in controlling future waves of COVID-19 illness at the population level, such messages may be some of the most important communications that paediatricians are currently providing.”  

If you are a parent or guardian, what would encourage you to vaccinate your child against COVID-19, and what message would be ineffective?