Summary: Many teens cite a desire to get a COVID vaccine in order to do their part and protect the health of those more vulnerable in their families and communities.
Source: University of Gothenburg
Unconcerned for themselves — but willing to protect others. These attitudes were expressed by many teenagers on being asked whether they wanted to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The study, from the University of Gothenburg, shows that a majority were in favor of the idea.
The study, published in the scientific journal Vaccine: X, is based on questionnaire responses from 702 adolescents in Sweden, aged 15–19, between July and November 2020. The survey was thus carried out before the country’s vaccination program began.
The study was led by University of Gothenburg researchers in collaboration with colleagues at University West, Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University. The study participants came from various parts of Sweden, and the results are both qualitative and quantitative in nature.
The questionnaire survey results show that 54.3 percent were willing to be vaccinated, while 30.5 percent were undecided. Anxiety about getting vaccinated, which was more marked in girls than in boys, was a factor associated with reluctance to get vaccinated.
Many of the adolescent respondents stated that they had pondered the pros and cons of the COVID vaccine. Overall, their attitude was positive, while they said they needed to know more about it. In many cases, this perceived lack of knowledge was crucial to their decision.
Skepticism passed on from parents
One misgiving expressed was the rapid development and fast-tracking of the vaccine; here, respondents mentioned their worry about serious side effects. Some referred to the mass vaccinations against swine flu in 2009/10, when in some cases the vaccine caused narcolepsy.
This particular aspect took Stefan Nilsson by surprise. An associate professor and senior lecturer at the University’s Institute of Health and Care Sciences at Sahlgrenska Academy, Nilsson is the study’s first and corresponding author.
“They were small children when the swine flu vaccinations came along, so it must have been their parents or other elders who influenced them, or else they’ve read about it. Clearly, that experience of the swine flu vaccine influences the younger generation as well,” he says.
At the time of the data collection, there were no reports of COVID-related deaths among young people in Sweden. For their own part, moreover, many of the teenage respondents were unafraid of becoming infected and falling ill.
Wish to protect others
Many, on the other hand, voiced altruistic motives for getting vaccinated and thereby protecting others whose health was more fragile. A further indication that the adolescents were willing to get the jab for other people’s sake was that this attitude was found to be linked to the practice of social distancing.
“The results suggest what steps need taking to make it easier for young people to make an informed decision ahead of getting vaccinated. They need factual information that the risks of COVID’s adverse effects are greater than the risks of any side effects of the jab,” Nilsson says.
“And the information needs to be spread through information channels that reach adolescents. What’s more, it’s important for there to be discussion forums where the young can meet experts who can discuss and answer their questions.”
About this COVID vaccination and psychology research news
To be or not to be vaccinated against COVID-19 – the adolescents’ perspective – a mixed-methods study in Sweden
Vaccination of the population seems to be an important strategy in halting the COVID-19 pandemic in both local and global society. The aim of this study was to explore Swedish adolescents’ willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and its association with sociodemographic and other possible factors.
A survey was distributed in Sweden between 7 July and 8 November 2020. The main qualitative question concerned adolescents’ thoughts on vaccination against COVID-19 and evaluated whether the adolescents would like to be vaccinated when a COVID-19 vaccine is made available. In total, 702 adolescents aged between 15-19 responded to the questionnaire. A convergent parallel mixed-methods design was used.
The results showed that nearly one in three adolescents had not decided if they wanted to get a COVID-19 vaccine, i.e. 30.5%: n=214. Of the participants 54.3% (n=381) were willing to be vaccinated. Girls had higher levels of anxiety about the vaccine compared to boys. In addition, high levels of anxiety impacted on the participants’ willingness to be vaccinated.
One reason for being undecided about the vaccine was that participants felt they did not know enough about it. Practising social distancing increased willingness to be vaccinated, as reflected in the qualitative results which showed participants wanted to be vaccinated to protect others.
The results impart important knowledge to healthcare professionals and contribute to their communication with adolescents about vaccine hesitancy.