U-M study offers insight for addressing vaccine hesitancy in parents

By Dennis Archambault

A remarkable finding in a newly released study from the University of Michigan demonstrates the confusion, fueled by distrust, among the vaccine-hesitant public. In this case, it’s parents – the people you’d think who would want to create the best example for their children – who have substantially lower rates of COVID vaccine immunization than adults living without children. What’s more, unvaccinated adults living with children are twice as likely to not get vaccinated.

This attitude, of course, translates into the lack of vaccination among 12- to 17-year-old young people. “According to the study data, children between the ages of 12 and 17 are over 10 times more likely to be vaccinated if the adult we surveyed in the same household was also vaccinated,” noted Jeffrey Morenoff, one of the U-M study’s researchers contributing in a Detroit News article. Morenoff is a professor of public policy and sociology and a research professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.


To some that may defy logic. But to those following public opinion regarding distrust in government and the health system over the last half-century, it’s a sad commentary on how a segment of the population refuses the advice of professionals. There are many reasons, from the historic unethical and racist practices of medical researchers and health care providers to the information anxiety and anti-professional attitude among the public. Everyone, it seems, has an entrenched position, emotionally driven and not open to change.

Morenoff says the study reveals yet another unusual conclusion. “Given their greater reluctance to be vaccinated and distrust in information about COVID-19, it might be tempting to characterize parents as being more skeptical of the pandemic as a public health threat, but we actually find the opposite is true. In fact, adults living with children report feeling less safe about many public activities, such as going grocery shopping, going to the hospital or doctor, visiting with relatives or friends in their home and working outside the home.”

So, these parents take the threat of the pandemic seriously but refuse to accept the best option of preventing the disease, instead relying on physical distancing and masking.

“The upshot is that as school and health officials work to promote COVID-19 vaccination among students to ensure a safe return to the classroom, we need to look beyond the kids themselves and encourage the parents of school-aged children to also be vaccinated,” Morenoff said.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.