Photo: American Medical Association

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If and when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and made available, how many Canadians intend on vaccinating their children?

That’s the question Halifax researcher Christine Lackner says we need to answer in order to better understand whether we can meet the minimum 80% threshold required to achieve herd immunity. 

The Mount Saint Vincent University psychology professor is conducting a national survey study on the health intentions of Canadian families if/when a novel coronavirus 2019 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccine is available. Children are less likely than adults to be COVID-19 symptomatic, increasing the possibility of them unknowingly transmitting the virus. Lackner said that’s one of the reasons why it’s essential to gain an understanding of parental intentions regarding vaccination. 

“As a parent, I know I’m thinking about what choices I will make for me and my family when a COVID-19 vaccine comes out, so I can only imagine that other people would be starting to think about that,” she said in an interview.

The survey study’s objective is to learn more about the psychological and demographic predictors for the decisions parents might make when choosing whether or not to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. 

Some of the demographic factors being explored include age, family composition, and socio-economic status. Psychological factors include perceived risk/omission bias, anxiety, and trust (or mistrust) in science or authority. She hopes to develop a profile of who’s more likely to get vaccinated and who’s least likely to follow that path.

Christine Lackner. Photo: MSVU

“Everybody needs to be free to make their own health decisions. So by no means am I saying that this research is going to tell us who we’re going to have to force to get a COVID-19 vaccine because we live in a democratic society and we get to make choices about our own health,” Lackner explained.

“But it’ll help give us an idea about whether it is possible to voluntarily reach potentially that 80% herd immunity level or not, and if there are any kinds of people who are feeling more hesitant about getting vaccinated.” 

Lackner said knowing more about parents’ vaccination intentions and hesitancies could help policymakers and public health officials develop appropriate information campaigns that might help shift their opinions. 

Although parents are the driving force of the anti-vaccination movement, Lackner stressed she’s keen to hear from parents who are both pro and anti-vaccination. She’s especially interested in responses from those who are currently on the fence about vaccination. 

“As soon as you say vaccines it kind of ignites some really strong feelings in people…You’ll get the people who are really against vaccination and then you’ll get other people who are like ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with it.’ You very rarely will ignite passionate conversation among the people who are in the middle of the road,” Lackner explained.

“I want the full range of both. I don’t only want pro-vaccinators versus anti-vaccinators in my study. I really want to see, what does this look like in Canada right now? What are people thinking about?”

Lackner said while a vaccine is viewed by some people as a “finish line” or end goal in dealing with the current pandemic, we need to be realistic about when that’s going to happen and how.

“Who’s actually going to help us reach that finish line, if it actually is the finish line that we think it is,” she said. “Are we ever going to get to that 80%? And if we never get to that 80%, then it’s not a finish line at all.”

The research survey is open for input from families across Canada who have at least one child under the age of 18. Respondents are asked to describe their past vaccination behaviours and future intentions. 

Lackner stresses the survey is not targeting families with any particular belief systems, but respondents across the full range of attitudes towards vaccinations. She’s excited to dig into the data to learn more about what Canadians are thinking when it comes to vaccinating their families against COVID-19. 

“Within a month or so after the survey closes I hope to have analyzed the data, and…by the end of the summer, hopefully there’ll be some published results that people will be able to see,” she said. 

She hopes to eventually conduct a follow-up study with interested respondents.

“I’d like to know did they actually get vaccinated? How did they feel about the whole experience, and did it change their attitudes about vaccination generally or not,” she said.

The survey closes Monday, June 8.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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1 Comment

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  1. Who is paying for this research? Will this research then be used to manipulate the population to more easily accept vaccination? Why not let people decide on their own without benefit of this research to manipulate them?

    There is much social and psychological research past and present going on that is then used to manipulate the population. Google, Amazon, Microsoft e.g. are all very big players/consumers in this field. All this research is available to Governments and Corporations to do with what they will, evil or not. Much of it is “academic’, payed for by taxpayers and then used to manipulate and harm them.

    Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman discusses a lot of these techniques and any listener or reader will easily see the problems in doing this type of research and its potential bad uses. The movie Experimenter also factually demonstrates how people can be easily manipulated to do very evil things.

    Most social/psychological researchers never discuss the potential bad effects or uses of their research or that their research may be used for malevolent purposes. They just research, thank you; let someone else deal with any bad consequences.