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Half of Israeli parents who planned to vaccinate kids for COVID didn’t bother: study

New research explains why only a fifth of 5-to-11-year-olds got vaccines, concluding that the moment parents glimpsed normality, ‘incentives disappeared’

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, December 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, December 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

More than half of Israeli parents who planned to vaccinate their young children against the coronavirus never did so, new research indicates.

The peer-reviewed study by the Galilee Medical Center and Bar Ilan University’s Azrieli Faculty of Medicine found that on the eve of the rollout for 5-to-11-year-olds last November, 44 percent of parents with children in the age bracket planned to vaccinate them.

But today, almost a year later and with a new school year getting underway amid uncertainty over the virus, only one in five children in that age range has received the shots.

The Health Ministry data from this week doesn’t allow for precise comparison with the survey, as it counts children who have been vaccinated while the survey asked parents, whose family sizes range. But it provides a strong approximation of vaccination drop-off.

“What happened here wasn’t that parents suddenly became afraid of the vaccine from a medical point of view, but rather that the big incentives that made people plan to vaccinate disappeared,” lead researcher Dr. Amiel Dror told The Times of Israel.

His study found that parents who intended to vaccinate were largely motivated by a desire to avoid the upheaval that arose from a combination of high coronavirus rates and strict government regulations.

Illustrative image: A child quarantined in her home, in Moshav Haniel, on December 24, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

For example, when vaccines for under 13s first arrived, schoolchildren often found themselves subject to seven-day quarantines after contact with a carrier. Most adults were exempted, as they were vaccinated.

If nothing changed, many parents were expected to wait a few weeks after vaccine rollout — common practice as people often wait for others to get a new vaccine before they come forward — and then take their kids. But in the space of a few weeks, everything changed.

By January, the government was making major changes to policy — abolishing quarantine for children who encountered a carrier at school, instead demanding regular testing.

Kids at a school in Tel Aviv hold up antigen coronavirus testing kits, on August 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Quarantine for infected people was reduced to around a third of the length it had been early in the pandemic. It began at 14 days, was reduced to 10 days in July 2021, and in January 2022 shrunk to five days dependent on two negative tests.

These changes caused the motivation for most parents to vaccinate quickly to dissipate, said Dror. The vast majority of parents he surveyed who planned to vaccinate — 89% — said they were motivated by wanting their kids to return to school and everyday life. With quarantines impacting parents’ abilities to work, some 78% said it was about the family’s financial resilience. By contrast, only 56% of those he surveyed who planned to vaccinate cited health reasons.

Dr. Amiel Dror (courtesy of Bar Ilan University)

Rampant infections also contributed to low child vaccination rates, Dror said. The start of 2022 was dominated by a major Omicron wave, and by the time many parents got around to planning vaccination, their children had already been infected, affording them natural immunity.

“People had been saying, ‘we’ll vaccinate our kids to get life back to normal and be able to go to weddings, go to the movies, and travel abroad.’ It was also about wider health concerns beyond COVID infection, like mental health implications of upheaval,” Dror said.

“Then, restrictions reduced regardless of vaccination and the mindset changed,” he added.

“Considering this in the context of the study actually brings a very interesting observation,” he pointed out. “It’s a very new concept in the world of vaccination that the desire to vaccinate was largely due to lifestyle concerns. Such an idea would have surprised people before the pandemic.”

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