A new study adds to previous research that has found religious and political correlations between vaccine beliefs and hesitancy, which have geographical links.
A study published in the journal Vaccine has found that parental beliefs and hesitancy over COVID-19 vaccines have spilled over into routine childhood vaccinations.1
While childhood vaccinations have significantly increased child well-being, vaccine misinformation and hesitancy are rising, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Childhood vaccination rates have been falling, with a subsequent rise in vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses.
Researchers from the department of epidemiology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor wanted to see how parental attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccine affected beliefs and hesitancy of routine childhood vaccinations.
The authors conducted a cross-sectional, opt-in online survey study from August to September 2022 of 310 parents with children under 18 living in the United States. The study aimed to examine parental vaccine beliefs regarding community vaccination rates, vaccine safety, effectiveness, and importance.
Study participant gender was almost equal, with 158 male and 152 female respondents. Most parents surveyed were White (205). Fifty-nine were Hispanic, 30 were Black/African American, and 16 classified themselves as other. For religious identity, 150 said they did not have a religion or organized themselves as other, while 135 identified as some Christian faith. The survey had 161 respondents who said they were Democrats, 91 who were Republicans, and 58 who were Independents. Eighty-one respondents were from the Northeast, 120 were from the South, 46 from the Midwest, and 63 were from the West region of the United States.
Researchers said some parents’ beliefs about vaccination have changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including levels of vaccine hesitancy. “Findings indicate that there is likely spillover of parental beliefs regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and other routine childhood vaccines,” the authors wrote.
The survey found that 11% of parents felt that vaccines were less safe since the beginning of the pandemic. Twelve percent said that childhood vaccines were less important, and 13% thought childhood vaccines were less effective.
Parents who perceived that vaccination rates were low in their community (9% of respondents) believed childhood vaccines were less effective at a higher rate (38%, compared to 19% who perceived they lived in high vaccination rate communities). “This corresponds to 4.34 times greater odds of believing childhood vaccines were less effective since the start of the pandemic (95 % CI: 1.38, 13.73) in those who believe COVID-19 vaccination coverage to be low in their community vs high,” the authors wrote.
Researchers said parents who received the COVID-19 vaccine were more likely to vaccinate their children with routine childhood vaccinations. However, parents who had intense negative experiences with COVID-19 infection, such as severe disease or hospitalization, were less trusting of regular childhood vaccines. Researchers said this may be evidence of a spillover of pandemic vaccine attitudes.
The study adds to previous research that finds religious and political correlations between vaccine beliefs and hesitancy, which have geographical links. “Our study’s contribution to this literature is that this hesitancy could map onto geographical clusters of low vaccination,” the researchers explained.
Study authors found that negative beliefs about vaccines and hesitancy had geographic region clustering and community clustering. They said neighborhoods and other smaller locations where people live that have low rates of vaccination could be flagged as being at-risk for diseases, even if states or counties where they are located have higher vaccination rates. The authors noted that people with many families and friends who were vaccinated also tended to be vaccinated.
“Beliefs about the COVID-19 vaccine have spillover with beliefs about childhood vaccines, and more negative beliefs may be clustering in areas with low vaccination coverage, which could predispose the area to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks,” the authors concluded.