5 ways educators can encourage parents to get kids vaccinated against COVID

Educators can point out the safety findings from vaccine clinical trials for 12- to 17-year-olds
By: | October 13, 2021
(AdobeStock)(AdobeStock)

With younger students on the verge of vaccine eligibility, school leaders may want guidance in convincing parents to get COVID immunizations for their kids.

Some parents remain concerned about potential side effects, how well the vaccine works in children and the amount of research that’s been conducted, says a new report, “Communication Strategies for Building Confidence in COVID-19 Vaccines” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Parents are also consulting with their health care providers and doing their own research on the vaccine, the report says.

“Communicating with people who are not vaccinated will require the use of new strategies that identify new variants as creating new risks,” the report says.

“The availability of vaccines for teenagers and younger children presents important opportunities for communicating with parents and children about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. ”

The report noted a gaping disparity in vaccination rates across the country: As of Oct. 4, for example, 40.5% of the eligible population in West Virginia was fully vaccinated, compared to nearly 70% of the same group in Vermont.

Surveys have also shown that Republicans, white evangelicals, rural residents, younger adults, those without college degrees, and adults without health insurance are less likely to be vaccinated, the report says. And white people continue to be vaccinated at higher rates than either Black or Hispanic people though the gap has narrowed recently.

Educators can follow these strategies in their efforts to encourage parents to vaccinate their children:

1. Emphasize safety and efficacy: Administrators can ease some parents’ anxieties by informing them that research is ongoing into the vaccines’ efficacy and potential risks. Educators can also point out the safety findings from the clinical trials for 12- to 17-year-olds, and the lack of serious adverse side effects seen in these older students.

“Safety concerns may be heightened among parents of young children—and engaging them now could be critical, focusing conversations on the rigor of clinical trials and the regulatory process,” the report says.

2. Encourage parents to talk with primary care providers: Research shows that parents tend to trust family doctors, making health care providers, making health care providers crucial sources of vaccine information.

Local, state and national leaders have even created messaging templates for health care professionals. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, for example, has developed a manual for doctors on creating and sending mass emails and text messages that encourage patients to get vaccinated.

3. Leverage parents’ social networks: School leaders can also engage trusted and influential community members in efforts to sway parents. These social networks will include family members, friends, co-workers, social media networks, media, and religious communities members.

4. Acknowledge racial inequities: Frame vaccines as one of several tools that can advance equity in communities hit hardest by the pandemic, and reassure those communities that this work will continue beyond the pandemic.

5. Develop a communications strategy: A campaign that promotes vaccine acceptance should:

  • Meet people where they are and do not try to persuade everyone.
  • Avoid repeating false claims.
  • Tailor messages to specific audiences.
  • Adapt messaging as circumstances change.
  • Respond to adverse events in a transparent, timely manner.
  • Emphasize support for vaccination instead of focusing on naysayers.

“While … different groups of parents will require different messaging, communication can start by focusing on what child vaccinations can accomplish: preventing COVID-19, and allowing children to attend school in person and participate in extracurricular activities without risking their health,” the report says.