American parents of school-age children are more supportive of school mask requirements than mandatory coronavirus vaccines, according to a new survey. It found that nearly two-thirds of those parents want schools to insist on masks for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
The survey, released on Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, offers a window into the thinking of U.S. parents at the outset of another complicated school year. Debates over mask mandates are raging, the Biden administration is making a push for young people to get inoculated, and the Delta variant is sending more young people to the hospital with Covid-19.
The survey found that 63 percent of parents wanted masks required in schools for people who are unvaccinated. But parents’ views about vaccinating their children are complicated, the survey found, and tend to fall along the partisan lines that have shaped the discussion around vaccinating adults.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in May for use in people aged 12 and older. But more than half of the parents of school-age children said they still did not think schools should require it.
The Kaiser research, part of an ongoing study of public attitudes toward Covid-19 vaccination, is based on a nationally representative sample of 1,259 parents with a child under 18 in their household. Conducted July 15 to Aug. 2, it found that one in five parents of children ages 12 to 17 said their child would “definitely not” get vaccinated.
“Despite controversy around the country about masks in schools, most parents want their school to require masks of unvaccinated students and staff,” Drew Altman, the foundation’s chief executive, said in a statement. “At the same time, most parents don’t want their schools to require their kids get a Covid-19 vaccine despite their effectiveness in combating Covid-19.”
School officials around the country say they are deeply concerned about their ability to keep classrooms open this year, and many schools are promoting vaccination and even running vaccination clinics. But persuading parents to vaccinate their children is an uphill battle, educators say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that just 30 percent of students ages 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated; the rate is 80 percent among U.S. adults over 65.
“The biggest challenge is just making sure that folks are understanding that the vaccines are safe and that the vaccines mitigate the effects” of Covid-19, said Raymond C. Hart, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts.
The Kaiser study reflected that challenge. An overwhelming majority — 88 percent — of parents whose children were unvaccinated said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that not enough is known about the long-term effects of Covid-19 vaccines in children, and 79 percent expressed concern about serious side effects.
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Nearly three-quarters of the parents said they worried the vaccines could hurt their child’s fertility, even though the C.D.C. has found no evidence of that.
Attitudes toward vaccination broke down along racial, ethnic and partisan lines.
Hispanic and Black parents were more likely than white parents to cite concerns that reflect access barriers to inoculation, including not being able to get a vaccine from a trusted place or believing that they might have to pay for it. The survey found that about two-thirds of Democratic parents favored mask and vaccine mandates, while more than three-quarters of Republicans opposed them.