Healthcare Leaders and Educators Must Partner to Educate Young People About COVID-19 Vaccines

Vaccines for kids are here.

On Friday, October 29, FDA authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for young people ages 5-11, and on November 2, CDC issued recommendations that all eligible children should get vaccinated. As a result, young people are now able to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

However, many parents are still hesitant to vaccinate their kids. New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 27% of parents in the U.S. say they will get their children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated “right away,” and 30% say they “definitely won’t.”

Despite misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, young people are increasingly educating themselves about the importance of vaccines. Some youth are forming organizations, like Teens for Vaccines, to help communicate accurate and trusted information in their own communities.

Now more than ever, young people are empowered to learn about COVID-19 vaccines and become vaccine advocates in their community.

Across the world, young people are eager learn about COVID-19 vaccines, characteristics of viruses, and the history of pandemics. They’re turning to known, trusted sources (educators, doctors, community leaders) as well as external media for knowledge and insight.

However, we’re at a crossroads for how we educate young people about the COVID-19 vaccines. Some educators are banned from talking about the COVID-19 vaccine with their students or are not allowed to teach any information about viruses or vaccines until later in the academic year. Others lack a holistic way to teach kids about the vaccines. It’s often challenging to balance up-to-date scientific data, historical context, and community concerns, while also helping young people to identify and seek out information from trusted sources.

With 28 million children now eligible for vaccination, many young people and their parents will seek out knowledge and insight about available COVID-19 vaccines. As circumstances make it difficult for educators to share this information, there is an opportunity for healthcare leaders to play a bigger role in educating young people about the COVID-19 vaccines and encouraging informed choices.

Healthcare leaders and educators must come together to expand vaccine education for kids.

Throughout the pandemic, healthcare leaders have listened to their community’s concerns about COVID-19, anticipated and responded to questions about vaccines, and proactively looked for ways to combat misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines for adults. Vaccinations for children are no different.

Healthcare leaders are in a unique position to leverage their trusted status in the community and lead youth-focused COVID-19 vaccine education efforts. They can complement – and supplement—the existing work within the education community and can reach a wider range of parents and kids.

How healthcare leaders can empower young people to communicate accurate information about vaccines in their community:

Educating kids about COVID-19 vaccines can occur in a variety of ways. Some organizations, like Ochsner Health and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, have launched large-scale, youth-focused vaccine education programs. The Smithsonian Science Education Center, has developed robust educational tools and materials for use in and outside the classroom, which healthcare leaders can leverage in a variety of settings. Additionally, individual healthcare leaders can reach out to their local educators and identify areas to collaborate on education, training, and myth-busting.

It’s essential that healthcare leaders step up and take an active role in educating and empowering young people to make informed choices about vaccines in their communities. Regardless of where in the healthcare industry you work, consider the following:

  • Collaborate with existing community outreach and youth-focused STEM education programs that your organization provides to advocate for programming dedicated to vaccines
  • Work with the schools, youth-focused programs, and educators in your community to understand how they are teaching kids about the COVID-19 vaccines today – and where you can play a role
  • Listen and respond to the misinformation in your community, and identify ways to proactively correct myths
  • Teach young people about the history of vaccines and viruses and how today’s COVID-19 pandemic fits into the larger history of pandemics
  • Explain how the COVID-19 vaccine was created and how they work
  • Encourage young people to identify and share accurate and reliable information about COVID-19 vaccines
  • Equip kids with the tools they need to surface community concerns and advocate for vaccines with family, friends, and community members
  • And more!

Additionally, consider using the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Vaccines!: How can we use science to help our community make decisions about vaccines? community response guide. After using the guide, young people will be able to share their knowledge with their community, create tangible ways to help their community make informed decisions in this challenging time, and understand the best places to find additional information on the topic.

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out to kids, it’s time for the healthcare industry and educators to collaborate.

This blog is part of an ongoing series dedicated to encouraging collaboration between healthcare leaders and educators for youth-focused COVID-19 vaccine education. In the coming weeks, look out for more posts sharing actionable ways to advance youth vaccine education, and learn from organizations leading the charge.

If you are interested in learning more about the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Vaccines! Guide, please email Katherine Blanchard at BlanchardKP@si.edu. If you are a healthcare leader looking for ways to collaborate with educators, or want to share your story, please email Pam Divack at pameladivack@gmail.com

About the Author

Pamela Divack

Pam Divack is a Volunteer Strategist with the Smithsonian Science Education Center. Her work focuses on encouraging collaboration between the healthcare industry and educators to advance youth-focused vaccine education initiatives. She graduated from Cornell University in 2018 with a Major in Biology and Society and Minor in Business, and currently works as a Healthcare Consultant.