Opinion | ‘There’s Almost No Incentive at All to Give Him the Vaccine.’

By Jessica Calarco

Dr. Calarco is a professor of sociology at Indiana University. She has been leading a research study involving surveys and interviews of 250 mothers of young children, whose vaccination decisions she has tracked since 2018.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, a mother I interviewed as part of my study on pandemic parenting said, she never had a problem with vaccines. Her 2-year-old son got all his recommended immunizations on schedule. When it comes to the Covid-19 vaccines, however, the mother, who is white and has a college degree, says she isn’t so sure.

“I just feel there’s almost no incentive at all to give him the vaccine,” she said. “Even if there was like no risk to it. It just seems why would we even get it for him? If he were to get it, he would be able to heal pretty quick. And it’s unlikely that he would spread it to others.” (All the mothers agreed to take part in this research on condition of anonymity.)

Vaccination for younger children could be available very soon, and while many parents have longed for it, there’s a substantial group of parents who are uncertain. A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only a third of parents with children ages 5 to 11 say they will vaccinate their children right away. Less than a quarter of parents with children under the age of 5 say they plan to do the same when a vaccine is available for that age group.

Even among children who are currently eligible — ages 12 to 17 — vaccination rates are lower than would be expected. About 59 percent of kids in that age group have received at least one dose.

These numbers contrast with the uptake rates for most other vaccines for children. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the portion of American children vaccinated by age 2 is more than 90 percent for polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox, and more than 80 percent for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

So, what’s different about the Covid-19 vaccines? Certainly they are more politicized than other vaccines, and there’s a great deal of misinformation and disinformation shared about them online. But, as I’ve covered in my research, those factors cannot entirely account for why so many parents — including politically liberal parents, highly educated parents and parents who previously followed vaccine protocols — are not planning to vaccinate their children against Covid-19.

What I’ve argued in my recent study — which draws on interviews with 80 mothers of young children whose vaccine decisions I’ve been following since 2018 — is that to explain why so many parents see little incentive to vaccinate their children against Covid-19, we need a theory of “moral calm.”

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