Vaccinated Parents might not Vaccinate their Kids: Same Problem, Different Choice.

By Imke van der Loo & Martijn Stroom

With a vaccination rate of 1.5 million vaccinations per week, it won’t take long until children below 17 years old can be vaccinated. Last week, the Dutch Health Counsel advised to vaccinate 12-to-17-year old’s with health issues, with the expectation that this advice will soon be extended to healthy children. Countries such as Germany, France and Canada already reached this point -- children from the age of 12 can get a COVID-19 vaccination. China allows children from the age of 3 to get vaccinated against COVID-19. However, it will be the parents that ultimately decide on the vaccination of their children. In that case the choice should be relatively simple, as parents already decided for themselves on whether to get “vaxed.” But is vaccinating yourself truly the same as vaccinating your child?

We investigated the decision to get a vaccination for a hypothetical, relatively unknown and uncertain disease, with comparable features of the COVID-19 virus. The risks of the disease and the (potentially severe) side-effects were proposed to be the same for children and adults. A priori, we expected participant’s preferences to be rational and consistent over time, leading to the same vaccination decision for their child as for themselves. Interestingly, we find that adults are 28% less likely to accept the vaccine for their child, as compared to likelihood of getting vaccinated themselves

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Trying to understand this discrepancy, we find that the underlying levels of expected regret towards making the wrong choice played an important role. We measured two types of regret: 1) the experienced regret when getting the disease without vaccination, and 2) the experienced regret when experiencing the side-effects after vaccination. Figure 1 shows our results: first, people overall experience higher levels of both types of regret when making the choice to vaccinate their child (Panel B) than for themselves (Panel A). Second, we see a trend that these levels of regret predict vaccination willingness. People that vaccinate show higher levels of regret to the idea of not vaccinating and getting the disease (Red, y-as) than to the idea of vaccinating and getting side-effects (Red, x-as). The opposite holds for people that don’t want to vaccinate (Blue). Most predominately, we found that these levels of regret also explain why people rather vaccinate themselves than their children. Especially the idea of vaccinating and experiencing side-effects evoked relatively higher levels of regret when people decided to vaccinate their children than themselves (x-as, Panel A&B).

What do these findings imply? First, fear and regret are important drivers of the decision to get vaccinated. Second, the levels of regret differ when we make the decision for ourselves compared to our children. Apparently, vaccinating yourself or your child are not as perfectly correlated as we would rationally assume. People are less willing to vaccinate their child than themselves, according to our findings. Emphasizing and focusing on the risks and consequences of both the side-effects of the vaccination as well as a COVID-19 infection, specifically for children, could promote an optimal decision process. Our findings are pessimistic: parents that might not be willing to take the risk of a COVID-19 infection themselves, seem to be less hesitant to take the same risk with their children.

SSRN Working Paper In Process