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Strategies for promoting the COVID-19 vaccine for children
When the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for kids ages 5-11, most vaccinated parents will get their children the shot. However, this will also be a prime opportunity for those who are anti-vaccine to ramp up their efforts to discredit the vaccine’s efficacy and spread misinformation, especially since much of the anti-vaccine rhetoric (along with anti-mask) has been about protecting children, according to Syracuse University assistant professor Rebecca Ortiz.
Ortiz, who studies and teaches about health communication strategies at the Newhouse School at SU, says that combatting this misinformation will continue to be an issue as the next round of vaccinations ramp up. However, Ortiz said there are some tactics that she learned while promoting the HPV vaccine to parents that can still be applied today for the COVID vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is a vaccine recommended for children ages 11 or 12, before a child is sexually active, as human papilloma viruses are sexually transmitted infections. Research has found that some parents are hesitant to get the vaccine for their children because they are concerned about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine — especially when it was still relatively new– or are concerned about the implications of giving their child a vaccine for sexually transmitted infections before they are sexually active, despite the fact that is exactly why it is recommended at ages 11 and 12.
“To improve vaccination, a great deal of focus was then placed on trying to correct those negative perceptions,” said Ortiz. “What eventually became clear however was that it wasn’t these perceptions alone that were holding back parents; it was that some physicians were not routinely recommending vaccination, arguably because they were not always well informed about the vaccine and underestimated parental acceptance and willingness,” said Ortiz.
“Physician recommendation is a key predictor of HPV vaccine uptake, and I would argue the same could be said for uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine by parents for their children,” said Ortiz. “If we want to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates, we cannot just focus efforts on combatting misinformation on social media; we must also equip physicians, specifically pediatricians, with the tools for communicating about the vaccine with hesitant parents. Children are often more likely than their parents to have regular wellness doctor visits and therefore these visits are prime opportunities for doctors to have conversations with parents about making the right choice about vaccination for their children.”
Ortiz conducts research at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with a focus in health communication, social marketing and entertainment and news media effects. She has managed and consulted on several health communication campaigns and research projects focused primarily on sexual health issues, such as sexual violence prevention.
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