More than half of Israeli parents who planned to vaccinate their young children against the coronavirus never did, new research shows.
The peer-reviewed study by Galilee Medical Center and Bar Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine found that on the eve of the induction for 5- to 11-year-olds last November, 44 percent of parents with children in the age group planned for them to vaccinate.
But today, almost a year later and as a new school year begins amid uncertainty about the virus, only one in five children in that age group has received the vaccine.
Data from the Department of Health this week doesn’t allow for an accurate comparison with the survey because it counts children vaccinated while the survey surveyed parents with different family sizes. But it offers a strong approximation of the vaccine waste.
“What happened here was not that, from a medical point of view, parents suddenly became afraid of the vaccine, but that the big incentives that led people to plan vaccination disappeared,” said lead researcher Dr. Amiel Dror to The Times of Israel.
His study found that parents contemplating vaccination were largely motivated by a desire to avoid the upheaval that resulted from a combination of high rates of coronavirus and strict government regulations.
For example, when vaccines for under-13s first began arriving, schoolchildren were often subjected to a seven-day quarantine after exposure to a carrier. Most adults were exempt as they were vaccinated.
If nothing changed, many parents were expected to wait a few weeks after the vaccine launch – common practice, as people often wait for others to get a new vaccine before coming forward – and then take their children with them. But within a few weeks everything changed.
By January, the government made major policy changes – removing quarantine for children who encountered a carrier at school and instead requiring regular testing.
Quarantine for infected people has been reduced to about a third of what it was at the start of the pandemic. It started at 14 days, was shortened to 10 days in July 2021, and shrunk to five days in January 2022, depending on two negative tests.
These changes meant that the motivation for most parents to get vaccinated quickly was dissipated, Dror said. The vast majority of parents he surveyed who were planning to get vaccinated – 89% – said they were motivated because they wanted their children to get back to school and to everyday life. As quarantines affect parents’ ability to work, around 78% said it affects the family’s financial resilience. Health reasons, on the other hand, were only mentioned by 56 percent of those who were planning a vaccination.
Rampant infections also contributed to low childhood vaccination rates, Dror said. The beginning of 2022 was marked by a major omicron wave, and by the time many parents started planning vaccinations, their children were already infected, giving them natural immunity.
“People said, ‘We’re going to vaccinate our kids so life gets back to normal and we can go to weddings, go to the movies and travel abroad.’ It also addressed broader health concerns beyond COVID infection, such as the impact of upheaval on mental health,” Dror said.
“Then the restrictions were reduced regardless of vaccination and the mindset changed,” he added.
“Looking at this in the context of the study actually makes a very interesting observation,” he emphasized. “It’s a whole new concept in the world of vaccinations that the desire to be vaccinated is largely due to lifestyle concerns. Such an idea would have surprised people before the pandemic.”