Adolescents/young adults (AYA) with hematologic and oncologic (heme-onc) conditions are important targets for vaccine outreach because they are at increased risk for complications from COVID-19. AYA patients may also need additional support, as they are transitioning from parent to independent vaccine decision-making. AYA with sickle cell disease (SCD) are of particular concern because a high proportion are African American and experience structural racism in addition to their illness. Our objective was to examine AYA and parent attitudes regarding the COVID-19 vaccine among heme-onc populations.
As part of a larger IRB-approved study, we recruited vaccine decision-makers in pediatric SCD and oncology survivor clinics, including parents of adolescents under 18 years (n=35), AYA patients 18-21 years old (n=21), and parents of AYA patients 18-21 years old (n=14). After informed consent, participants completed a demographic survey and a semi-structured interview regarding their vaccine decision-making process. Example questions included “What do you see as the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine?” and “What are your concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine?”. Saturation was reached. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis. Codes were developed from the literature and early interviews. Examples included “attitudes against vaccine,” “medical mistrust,” “hesitancy,” “vaccine side effects,” and “vaccine interactions with disease process.” Fisher exact statistical tests were performed to analyze quantitative data.
In SCD clinic, we recruited 31 index patients (mean age: 15.1±3.5 years; 30 African American and 1 Other or Mixed), yielding 11 AYA and 26 parent interviews. In survivor clinic, we recruited 26 index patients (mean age: 16.0±3.4 years; 20 White, 2 Hispanic or Latinx; 2 Other or Mixed, 1 African American, and 1 Asian), yielding 10 AYA and 23 parent interviews. Out of the total index patients, 8 had already received the vaccine, 13 were planning to receive it, 27 were considering it, and 9 had declined it. There was no clear relationship between patients’ diagnosis (SCD or cancer) and their vaccine decisions nor between the index patient’s age (under or over 18) and their vaccine decisions. A high proportion of participants saw benefits to vaccination, such as lowering personal risk, community benefits of preventing the spread of COVID-19, and a possible return to “normal.” However, many AYA and parent participants also had concerns toward the vaccine, including concerns about short-term side effects and the potential for unknown, long-term effects. Concerns were also voiced about how rapidly the vaccine was developed and misconceptions about the vaccine were common, namely the vaccine causing infertility or increasing one’s susceptibility to contracting COVID-19. Medical mistrust toward either the vaccine or providers was explicitly stated by several participants, the majority of whom were from minoritized groups.
COVID-19 vaccines have the potential to protect medically and socially vulnerable AYA, however patient and parent concerns, misconceptions, and mistrust are still prevalent. These data provide insights into the design and implementation of vaccine counseling interviews for AYA subspecialty patients and families.
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NIH P30 CA082709-21S2.
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