A large survey in England has suggested that half of children and teenagers aged nine to 18 are willing or keen to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The survey, carried out during between May and July this year, is one of the first to request the views of pupils and not parents over the plan to vaccinate children and teenagers. With more than 27,000 student responses, it revealed that 50% were willing to get a vaccination, with 37% undecided and 13% not willing to vaccinate.
These findings, published in the Journal EClinicalMedicine, were completed prior to the UK recommending all aged 12 to 15 to get one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
Medical experts state that despite the virus not being a serious risk towards children, vaccinating those over the age of 12 would be constructive. It prevents them from catching COVID-19 as well as helping prevent the spread of the virus to other more vulnerable people. It would also provide less disruption to their education and general daily school life.
However, like any other vaccination, there are risks and possible side-effects to take into consideration.
In a way of helping young people reach a sensible decision, researchers are calling for more resources to be provided to communities and to students who feel disconnected with their schools to certify the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. Experts are also insisting there be attainable and accurate information on social media sites such as TikTok that states clearly the risks and benefits of getting the jab.
Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, told a Science Media Centre briefing: “Given the huge disruption that has happened in education and for children, I think this study is really important because it’s highlighting that we’ve actually missed this really important group in making sure they have access to information.
“And of course they don’t access their information by reading the newspaper or watching broadcast news. A lot of it is through social media.”
Mina Fazel, one of the researchers and an associate professor from the University of Oxford, stated the importance to get the trusted advice about the COVID-19 vaccine out there to younger people.
“Young people might not want their peers, their teachers, or even their parents to know about their choice to get vaccinated,” she said.
“It could be that they are worried what their friends think, for example, and what they may need is a way to get vaccinated while feeling safe and comfortable. We must ensure these opportunities are provided for.
“The young people we’ve spoken to are saying that we need to use social media channels. That maybe celebrities getting involved might be a route that they would listen to more.”
The survey which took place in schools across Merseyside, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire also discovered that younger students were less willing to get the jab than older students, and students who were more hesitant about getting the jab were also more likely to spend longer on social media, attend schools in deprived areas, and feel as though they did not identify with their school community.
Professor of child and adolescent health at University College London, Russell Viner, said: “That is a huge opportunity for us, but it also suggests that there is risk.”
“Young people are potentially vulnerable to those pushing views that are very strongly opposed to vaccination,” he cautioned.
Vaccinations may be offered to young people in various locations such as shopping centres and football grounds to increase the uptake among those who do not feel engaged in school and want to keep their vaccination status private.
Prof Viner said: “Our findings suggest it will be essential to reach out and engage with young people from poorer families and communities with lower levels of trust in vaccination and the health system.
“A school-based vaccination programme, as planned in England, is one way of helping reduce these health disparities. However, the teenagers who are least engaged with their school communities may need additional support for us to achieve the highest uptake levels.
“Scotland is offering young people the ability to drop into any vaccination centres, and I think those kinds of policies, aligned with the school policy, are the best way for us to offer the choice to all young people.”