Disclosures: Walsh reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors' relevant financial disclosures.
November 24, 2021
2 min read

One-third of caregivers of childhood cancer survivors are hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines

Disclosures: Walsh reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors' relevant financial disclosures.
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About a third of caregivers of pediatric cancer survivors are hesitant about their children receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, according to a study published in Pediatric Blood and Cancer.

According to study co-author Kyle M. Walsh, PhD, director of the division of neuro-epidemiology at Duke University Medical Center, the idea for the study came from a survey that the center had conducted among families of childhood cancer survivors early in the COVID-19 pandemic.


“We've worked with this cohort of cancer survivor families for a number of years during different studies,” Walsh said in a Healio interview. “When the COVID pandemic initially started, we put a survey together to discuss and interact with them about challenges to dealing with COVID-19 that might be unique to the childhood cancer survivor population.”

At the time, many patients in the cohort were desirous of COVID-19 vaccine, he said.

“Now that there are vaccines increasingly being approved for younger patients, we wanted to follow up with that same group of families, to see how they felt about getting their children potentially vaccinated against COVID-19, and specifically to see if there was anything different or unique about this population of individuals regarding their concerns or their desires,” Walsh said.

The researchers surveyed 130 families with a child who was either “in remission, but still being actively followed for cancer recurrence, or who may be in late effects clinics, treating them for side effects of their cancer care,” according to Walsh. The researchers then compiled the results with existing data about the families, including median household income and the type of pediatric cancer, to examine factors associated with vaccine acceptability.

Altogether, 51% of the respondents said their children would receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available to them, although 21% of the caregivers expressed hesitancy to vaccinate themselves and 29% expressed hesitancy to vaccinate their children. Free-text responses to the survey showed three general themes, which included the caregivers’ “confidence in science, medicine and vaccination as a strategy for health promotion, confidence in [COVID-19] vaccination and belief that [childhood cancer survivors] are at greater risk of COVID-19 complications, and concerns about the swiftness of COVID-19 vaccine development and insufficient safety/efficacy data in children and [childhood cancer survivors],” according to the study.

Walsh said that one hopeful finding in the study showed that caregivers who received information related to COVID-19 from their medical care teams, as opposed to social media or government organizations, had a greater willingness to self-vaccinate and vaccinate their children.

“This highlighted to us that if there’s a lack of faith in federal government-driven messaging, which would include the CDC and the FDA, then that didn’t seem to be something that could reach individuals who were hesitant about the vaccine,” Walsh said.

The fact that caregivers who received information from providers were more receptive to vaccination presented “a real opportunity for those physicians and providers to provide updates and information [on COVID-19 and vaccines] as it becomes available,” he added.