UM study: Detroit parents less likely to vaccinate themselves, their kids

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

A University of Michigan report released this week indicates Detroit parents are less likely to vaccinate themselves than nonparents, which is leading to low youth vaccination rates in the state's largest city.

Just under half of Detroit parents and guardians of children under 18 reported at the end of last year that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 75% of adults without children, according to the report from the Detroit Metro Communities Study, supported by UM's Poverty Solutions Initiative.

Unvaccinated parents, the study found, are 22 times less likely than vaccinated parents to report that their children ages 12-17 have been vaccinated.

The survey was administered to 1,900 Detroit households between Nov. 3 to Dec. 15. the Detroit Metro Communities Study has been surveying representative samples of Detroit households since 2016, and survey responses are weighted to match Detroit’s population demographics and represent the views of the city as a whole, researchers said. 

Kree Bessant (left), 8, of Detroit, is given her COVID-19 vaccine by Frenchy Savage, RN., as she wears a super hero mask and cape at the Detroit Health Department Immunization Center in Detroit on Wednesday, December 29, 2021.

At the time of the survey, children between 5 and 11 years old only recently became eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Even so, 67% of parents who had not been vaccinated said they were still uncomfortable with the idea of inoculating their 5-11-year-olds compared to 30% of vaccinated parents.

Less than half of Detroit's eligible population has received a vaccine dose, compared to 65% of Michigan's population. The study noted there was no evidence of ethnoracial differences in vaccination rate among parents; however, White Detroiters said they were more likely to vaccinate their children.

Lydia Wileden, a doctoral candidate at UM and research associate at the Detroit Metro Communities Study, said recognizing the link between parents and children's vaccination status gives essential insight as the state ramps up vaccination efforts targeting children.

"Overcoming families’ vaccine hesitancy is absolutely critical as schools, sports and youth programs work to provide safe spaces for children to learn and grow. Our findings clarify in part which youth are not getting COVID-19 vaccines, and why," Wileden said.

About 86% of unvaccinated parents responded that they were concerned  about safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Additionally, 76% of parents cited doubt about the effectiveness of the vaccine as contributing to their decision not to be vaccinated.

Detroit's chief health officer Denise Fair Razo said she can't speculate on the findings of the survey but is aware that vaccination rates for young children are the lowest of any eligible age group. 

As of Tuesday, just 12.7% of Detroit's children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose of vaccine and less than 10% are fully vaccinated. As for children ages 12-15 years old, 27% are fully vaccinated, according to the Detroit Health Department.

"What I can tell you is that Detroit remains at an elevated rate of transmission for COVID-19 and our vaccination rates are not where they need to be," Fair Razo said. "All parents want what is best for their children. Every parent needs to make their decision based on facts."

State Rep. Tyrone Carter, a Democrat from Detroit and a COVID-19 survivor, held an event in September to build vaccine confidence in Detroit's Black community. 

Carter noted that African Americans often are reluctant to trust medical professionals or the scientific community, including in Detroit, where 79.1% of the population is Black, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

He said it's critical to combat misinformation that circulates on the internet and spreads by word-of-mouth, such as the idea that the vaccines don't work. 

“The share of parents who are uncertain about having their children vaccinated for COVID-19 indicates an opportunity for more outreach and education to address families’ unanswered questions about the vaccine,” said Jeffrey Morenoff, one of the faculty research leads for the Detroit Metro Communities Study.

Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, DPSCD, listens to Lt. Gov. Garland Gilchrist II, State of Michigan, remarks during the press conference announcing the availability of the vaccine for DPSCD students and the importance of getting your shots.

Lower vaccination rates among parents did not indicate doubts about the seriousness of the virus. Parents continue to report feeling significantly less safe engaging in social activities. The study found that 66% of parents feel safe going grocery shopping and 59% feel safe going to the doctor.

Nearly 3 in 10 adults who had not been vaccinated in June have since been vaccinated. In the next Detroit Metro Communities Study report, researchers say they will explore how vaccination rates among adults in Detroit have changed over time.

The Detroit Health Department continues to work with Detroit Public School Community District's in-school vaccination program.

Fair Razo is encouraging hesitant Detroiters to talk with their healthcare provider, health department nurses or attend an upcoming town hall for parents featuring panels of pediatricians to answer their questions.

"We now have the tools to help in our battle to keep our city safe," Fair Razo said. "Let’s all do what we can to help slow the spread and get our lives back to normal."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_