41% Indian parents surveyed are currently unwilling to get their children in the 6-12 age group vaccinated
- ● 92% parents in favour of Government creating SMS-based adverse effects tracking system to trace post-vaccination side effects over time and create a knowledge base for younger children
- ● Key causes of hesitancy include concerns about side effects, lack of effective adverse events tracking system and concerns whether the current vaccines will protect from Omicron sub-variants
- ● Few hesitant parents say that given the Supreme Court order of “no forced vaccination”, if their state government or school still mandates COVID vaccine for their child, they will file a court petition
May 7th, 2022, New Delhi: The COVID-19 vaccination drive to include children in India has taken another leap. The country’s drug regulator, Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) last week recommended granting emergency use authorisation (EUA) to Hyderabad-based firm Biological E developed COVID-19 vaccine Corbevax for children in the 5 to 12 years age group. The COVID-19 vaccination drive to include 6.5 crore children in the 12 to 14 age group started on March 16th this year. Also, the inoculation for adolescents aged between 15 and 18 years started on January 3rd. Meanwhile, the Serum Insitute of India (SII) has also received the DCGI’s nod for emergency use authorisation of Covovax for children in the 12 to 17 age group. The Union Health Ministry has said that more than 88 lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to children in this age group. The SII has also sought a EUA for its Covovax vaccine from the drug regulator for children in the 7 to 11 age group. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a review meeting with the state chief ministers on April 27th and said that vaccinating all eligible children at the earliest is a priority for the government and specialised programmes needed to be conducted in schools. However, COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory. The Supreme Court of India has said that no individual should be forced to get a COVID vaccine shot and directed the Government to make public the data on COVID immunisation adverse events. It said that till COVID case numbers are low, no restrictions should be imposed on unvaccinated individuals on access to public areas and any such mandates must be recalled.
Experts globally have maintained that though COVID vaccines do not provide protection from getting infected, they protect from severe disease. However, post Omicron, the big concern amongst some people including experts has been whether the vaccine designed for the alpha variant provides protection from a sub-variant of Omicron, which is a highly divergent mutation. Some parents have also expressed concerns regarding the risk associated with COVID vaccines, stating that they need more information regarding the vaccine’s side effects before they decide to inoculate the jab to their children. The AEFI reports for children have not been made public since January 27th, 2022, and many parents have expressed their concerns on lack of effective reporting when it comes to adverse events.
The National Technical Advisory Group for Immunisation (NTAGI) had earlier stated that vaccination for children was not necessary as children did not experience severe symptoms and the death rate remained extremely low. Most experts including some of the NTAGI members were against COVID vaccination for children till late March. It can be mentioned here that the Supreme Court of India has termed any vaccine mandate for children “unethical”, stating that children were not able to give their consent while parents are unable to make an informed decision in the absence of adequate data on vaccine trials. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), reporting adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) surveillance is the first step to ensuring vaccines are safe.
LocalCircles has been collecting the pulse of Indian parents in regards to vaccinating their children once the vaccine is made available. The LocalCircles survey released in January 2021 found out that only 26% of parents were willing to give the COVID vaccine to children as soon as it becomes available. Hence, aimed to gauge the perception of parents on vaccinating their wards with COVID vaccines now available, LocalCircles has conducted another survey on this pertinent issue. Given that the COVID vaccine is now available for children between the ages of 6-12, the survey sought to know if parents would be willing to get the vaccine administered to their children in this age group. It then sought to know their perception if the Government should create an SMS-based feedback system for parents to report side effects experienced by their children after the jab. The survey received 18,500 responses from parents residing in 345 districts of India. 62% of the participants were men while 38% were women. 44% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 31% from tier 2 and 25% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.
41% parents of children between ages 6-12 unwilling to give COVID vaccine to their children immediately
The first question in the survey asked parents with children between ages 6-12, “When would you be willing to give COVID vaccine to your children between the ages of 6-12?” In response, the majority, 51% of parents said “Immediately or as soon as it is available”. 18% said they will wait “0-3 months”, and 8% will wait “3-6 months” after it becomes available for this age group. Only 3% of parents said, “Will be giving an alternate vaccine”. Whereas, 12% of parents said they “Will not be giving COVID vaccine to my children/grandchildren for now”. 8% of parents are undecided. On an aggregate basis, 41% of parents of children between 6-12 age group are currently unwilling to give COVID vaccine to their children immediately. This question in the survey received 9,656 responses.
Some of the hesitant parents have expressed that their child’s school is demanding proof of COVID vaccination, citing Government guidelines, and given the recent Supreme Court verdict if the same is not withdrawn, they will not hesitate to file a petition in the court to oppose forced vaccination.
The Central Government maintains that the current adverse event following immunisation (AEFI) surveillance system in the country is adequately empowered to handle suspected AEFI related to COVID-19 vaccination. According to the Centre, the AEFI surveillance system collects data of all adverse events related to COVID-19 vaccine beneficiaries, including pregnant women or lactating mothers. The system is time-tested and well-equipped to handle the adverse effects of vaccination. Experts suggest careful investigation of all serious AEFIs is critical to determine the likelihood of a causal link between vaccines and AEFIs. According to them, such practises ensure public confidence in vaccines and provide more knowledge about the same.
However, many parents over the last 6 months have been expressing on LocalCircles that while the regular adverse events tracking system exists, many cases have come to light among children where there were adverse events. Hence the Government should create an adverse events tracking system that is SMS-based where the parents can be reached out immediately post-vaccination after 3 days, 15 days, 30 days and 90 days to ensure the child is doing well and capture those details if there are any issues. According to parents, this will not only ensure that the Government has data on any side effect patterns, but issues after vaccination can be recorded as well as adequate preparation can be outlined when children under 5 are administered the vaccine.
92% parents in favour of Government creating an SMS-based adverse effects tracking system for vaccination of children
The next question asked parents, “Given that COVID vaccination for children between ages 6-12 has commenced, should the government create an SMS-based feedback system for parents to report side/adverse effect?” In response, the majority, 61% of parents said “Yes and it must be mandatory for parents” and another 31% also said “Yes, but it must be optional for parents”. There were only 3% who said “No, this is not necessary” and 5% did not have an opinion. On an aggregate basis, 92% of parents surveyed are in favour of government creating an SMS-based adverse effects tracking system for vaccination of children. This question received 8,940 responses.
To summarise, 41% of parents of children between the ages 6-12 are currently unwilling to give COVID vaccine to their children immediately. This hesitancy is primarily due to concerns around side effects, very low probabilities of severe disease in children from currently circulating variants and whether the currently administered vaccines provide protection from Omicron and its subvariants.
In addition to these issues, parents demand an SMS-based adverse events tracking system that works overtime and can seek inputs on how the child is doing post immunisation after 3, 15, 30 and 90 days so any issues faced can be captured easily. Currently, there is no mechanism for parents to report the same. Parents believe that such a system will not only reduce hesitancy but also help the Government better understand patterns and issues with different vaccines, and the date can as well come in handy when the Government makes the COVID vaccine available to the youngest population of those under age 5.
LocalCircles will share the findings of this survey with key stakeholders in the Central Government and Chief Secretaries of all states so citizen inputs can be considered as child vaccination program progresses in India.
The survey received 18,500 responses from parents residing in 345 districts of India. 62% of the participants were men while 38% were women. 44% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 31% from tier 2 and 25% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform, and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.