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How Much Will Hesitancy Among Parents Affect Vaccine Rollout To Children?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where if you had happened to wander by my house around this time yesterday, you might have heard whoops of joy. The whoops were coming from the 15-year-old in our family, and they were in response to news that the FDA had just authorized the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 for 12- to - yes - 15-year-olds. A lot of teenagers and - let's be honest - their parents are looking forward to an in-person school year come fall, but there are particular challenges for inoculating this age group, from distributing the shots to convincing parents to consent to vaccinations. And that includes some parents who raced to get the shots themselves. Here to explain is Dr. Sally Goza, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Goza, welcome.

SALLY GOZA: Thank you for having me today...

KELLY: Hi.

GOZA: ...On this exciting day.

KELLY: Glad to - well, I was just going to ask what your reaction to yesterday's news was. Were you whooping over at your house or no?

GOZA: I was whooping in my office because this is just exciting. I mean, children deserve to have the protection of this vaccine. I mean, this is just - it's wonderful news. We've had over 3.7 million children infected with COVID, and they do - they can get sick from this. And so it is our job as parents and pediatricians and people in our country to make sure our children are protected and taken care of during this.

KELLY: Well, let's talk about vaccine hesitancy with regard to this group, young teenagers. How is it different from the conversation we've been having up to now that's been centered on adults and older teens?

GOZA: Well, you know, for children and for teenagers, you have to actually have the parents agree to it as well. And so it's - you have to convince two people to get a vaccine. Really, you only have to convince the parent because the parent can tell the child they're going to get it, but - and so there is vaccine hesitancy. There's always been vaccine - there's been vaccine hesitancy for a long time. And so I think, you know, pediatricians are doing our best to explain what this vaccine is, why it's so important for children to be able to get this vaccine. We need to protect our children. We need to continue to try to get to community immunity. And children need to be protected from this virus because we still don't know what the long-term effects of this virus are.

KELLY: But what are some of the questions you're hearing that are specific to this age group?

GOZA: The same questions you hear a lot of times - it's a new vaccine. How do we know what the long-term side effects of the vaccine are? You know, I want to wait until it's approved fully and not under emergency use authorization. You know, and - you know, some people are even, you know, saying, you know, we don't get the flu vaccine, so why do we need to get this vaccine? That's probably about a third of the parents I talk to. There are a third that are like, tell me about this vaccine. I want to know about it so I can feel comfortable giving it.

And then I have a third who are knocking my door down, going, when are you going to have it? When can we get it? And so it's - you know, it's broken down that way, and I think that's probably similar across the country as the - you know, there are different groups of people that are looking at this. It's hard when you have a vaccine-hesitant parent because it is a new vaccine, but it went through all the testing that every other vaccine went through. You know, the EUA is how we can get emergency medicines out there when we have a crisis like the pandemic. And so explaining all that to parents seems to help in many, many cases.

KELLY: And so for the record, your advice in a sentence or two - as a pediatrician speaking to parents of 12- to 15-year-olds who are out there listening, your advice is what?

GOZA: My advice is talk to your pediatrician, get your questions answered about this vaccine and truly, truly consider getting your child vaccinated because it is the right thing to do.

KELLY: How involved should children, particularly older ones like this age group - how involved should they be in these conversations?

GOZA: I think they need to be involved in these conversations. I think they need to understand why they're getting the vaccine. Any vaccine at that age, they need to understand why they're getting it, what the disease is, what this vaccine does and what side effects they can have from the vaccine. So that's critical to also have the children and the teenagers involved in some of that decision-making. And I actually - when I have a hesitant parent who doesn't want to do it right then and there, I - and actually, waiting for this authorization, I've been giving out the healthychildren.org website to parents to look and go and read about this vaccine and have their children read about the vaccine as well to try to overcome some of that hesitancy.

KELLY: Last question, which is, what is the role of schools here, either in terms of providing information, in terms of serving as a safe and trusted site where people might be able to get vaccines?

GOZA: You know, I think it's going to take a village to get our children vaccinated. And we can vaccinate our 12- to 18-year-olds before school starts back. We may have to have school clinics. We'll need to have pediatricians giving it as well as other places giving the vaccine.

KELLY: Dr. Sally Goza - she is a pediatrician. And last year, she served as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Goza, thanks for your time.

GOZA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.