The younger their child, the less likely parents will want them to get COVID-19 vaccine, survey finds

The younger their children, the less likely it is that Canadian parents want them vaccinated against COVID-19, research led by the University of Alberta suggests.

Study reveals Canadian parents' intentions to immunize kids under 11 years old

This month Health Canada approved Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for use in children under five. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Russell, POOL (The Canadian Press)

The younger their children, the less likely it is that Canadian parents want them vaccinated against COVID-19, research led by the University of Alberta suggests.

In a study published this month in the journal Preventive Medicine, 41.9 per cent of Canadian parents surveyed said they planned to vaccinate children between the ages of six months and 23 months.

The older the child, the more likely parents were to say they did plan to get them vaccinated:

  • 45.4 per cent of parents intended to immunize children aged two to four.
  • 56 per cent of parents intended to immunize children aged 5 to 11. 

The remaining respondents for each age category either didn't intend to immunize their children or were undecided. 

The data was gathered during an online survey last October and November. The 1,129 parents who responded were selected from a panel of more than 400,000 Canadians from polling firm Leger.

The reported intentions of parents for kids aged five to 11 have been reflected in actual vaccinations: as of June 19, 56 per cent of five- to 11-year-olds had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Earlier this month, Moderna's Spikevax became the first COVID vaccine in Canada to be approved to be administered to children between six months and five years old. Health Canada said there were no safety concerns detected during a study of the vaccine.

Health officials and experts have urged parents to get their children immunized to reduce risk of severe illness and reinfection. 

The survey also gathered responses on parents' reasons for their intentions on COVID-19 immunizations for kids, as well as their preferences for the best way to access vaccines.

Parents' interest in having COVID-19 vaccines made available along with other childhood vaccines was one of the stand-out findings for Robin Humble, a University of Alberta nursing PhD candidate who led the analysis of the data published this month.

University of Alberta faculty of nursing PhD candidate Robin Humble compiled national survey results on parents' intentions when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination for their children. (Robin Humble.)

"It just speaks to an opportunity for vaccine providers, who have that one-on-one contact when administering routine vaccines for younger kids, to talk about COVID vaccination with parents and promote it as well," Humble said. 

According to the survey results, the majority of parents of kids aged five to 11 would agree to have their child get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the flu shot (55 per cent) or other childhood vaccines (63 per cent). 

Nearly half of the parents of five- to 11-year-olds — 47.9 per cent — were in favour of drop-in clinics, while 63.6 per cent wanted school-based immunization clinics to improve access.

The findings published this month are part of a larger study led by Shannon MacDonald, an associate professor in the faculty of nursing at the U of A.

MacDonald said previous research has shown that parents are more willing to get vaccinated themselves than to vaccinate their children. She said the survey delves into how parents are often making a calculation based on perceived risk.

"Parents think about their younger children as more vulnerable. And, of course, the vaccine has been licensed in that sort of age-based criteria. So it makes sense that people are more apprehensive the younger their children get," MacDonald said. 

She said it's important to note the large cohort of parents who are very keen to immunize their young children.

Shannon MacDonald, associate professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta, researches immunization policy and practice. She says Alberta's third dose uptake is highest among older age groups and drops as people get younger. (John Ulan/Ulan Photography)

The survey found the top reason for parents wanting to immunize kids under five was to protect the child.

Parents who did not intend to immunize their child against COVID-19, or who were undecided, reported concerns about vaccine safety, the speed of vaccine development, and the fact it was a new vaccine.

'Not anti-vaxxers'

Pediatric infectious diseases specialist Dr. Cora Constantinescu said the survey results reflect the ongoing peer-reviewed COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring (COSMO Canada) findings about immunization.

She said it's important to understand that many of the parents not planning to vaccinate their children do trust the health-care system and experts.

"These are not anti-vaxxers. These are just parents trying to make the best decision they can for their child," Constantinescu said.

She said that while continuing to battle misinformation about vaccines is important, a major factor is that parents don't believe their children are at high risk.

"At the heart of this, if you look at the COSMO survey, they felt their kids are healthy, that their immune systems can see them through this," she said.

Constantinescu said she was most interested in the survey's finding that the majority of parents support COVID-19 immunizations in schools. It is not offered in Alberta, but Constantinescu and other health-care professionals have called for it.

Education and connecting with parents one-on-one to talk about the benefits of immunizations is key to improving uptake, Constantinescu said.

Alberta Health has said rollout of vaccines for young children will begin at the end of July. In a statement, spokesperson Lisa Glover encouraged parents to speak to a trusted health-care provider if they have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

The study, led by the University of Alberta, was conducted by Leger between Oct. 14 and Nov. 12, 2021, interviewing 1,129 Canadian parents. We cannot accurately calculate a margin of error for online surveys. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.9% percentage points.


Paige Parsons is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has specialized in justice issues and city hall, but now covers anything from politics to rural culture. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.