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NULab Co-Director David Lazer Discusses Parents Accessing COVID-19 Vaccine Information for Children

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From News@Northeastern

By Tanner Stening

Parents of children between the ages of 5-18 weighed in on where they obtained important information about their children’s health and the decision to vaccinate them against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in a new survey conducted by researchers at Northeastern.   

Researchers at the Covid States Project—a collaborative reporting effort by Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers—sought to tease out where parents of both vaccinated and unvaccinated children get their information about the COVID-19 vaccine and broader health matters. The data was collected over the course of several months from a national pool of parents. 

In seeking information about vaccination for their children, parents by and large consulted official sources, such as news websites and government and medical websites, with 49% and 51% stating they “often” or “sometimes” got information from these sources, respectively. 

Television and Facebook were next in order of popularity, with 39% and 35% of parents surveyed saying they often or sometimes used those sources to find information, respectively. At the bottom were books and magazines, with only 19% and 18% of parents saying they relied on the print options for information, respectively.

The survey also looked at differences in how parents of vaccinated children seek information about their children’s health and vaccination compared to parents of unvaccinated children. Using one set of questions and answers, the researchers found that there is only slight variation between the two groups in terms of where they sought out information, with parents of vaccinated children tending to consult information sources of all kinds more frequently than their counterparts, says Krissy Lunz Trujillo, a postdoctoral researcher in Northeastern’s Network Science Institute

But, whereas parents of vaccinated children were “much more likely” to cite health care professionals, the government, and schools, parents of unvaccinated children were more likely not to seek information from any sources, the study shows.  

“One takeaway is that parents of unvaccinated kids were less likely to have looked at all,” Trujillo says, adding that those parents, rather than citing information sources, were more likely to state that the decision not to vaccinate their children stemmed from personal values.

When it came to the decision to vaccinate their children, respondents were invited to give their own open-ended responses on where they sought information based on whether they had or had not gotten their children vaccinated. Here researchers found significant disparities, with parents of vaccinated children citing health care professionals at nearly twice the rate (28%) of parents with unvaccinated children (15%). Parents with vaccinated children also cited the government at more than three times the rate (16%) than parents with unvaccinated children (6%).

Parents with unvaccinated children were also more than five times (11%) more likely to cite themselves as the source of information about whether to vaccinate their children than their counterparts (2%). 

The survey confirms what many in public health already knew: That distrust of certain information sources, such as the government and the media, for example, has been a significant predictor of vaccine hesitancy in adults, says David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer sciences at Northeastern, and co-author of the study. 

“Everyone wants to keep their children healthy,” Lazer says. “But a significant minority of people don’t trust the information the government and the medical profession is providing about vaccinating children.”

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