Why parents have mixed feelings about the single-dose COVID-19 vaccine

Rachel Grumman Bender
·6 min read

On Friday, Johnson & Johnson announced that phase III trial results in the U.S. show their single-dose COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 85 percent effective overall in preventing severe disease in all regions studied (the U.S., Latin America and South Africa) 28 days post-vaccination, protecting against COVID-related hospitalization and death. The vaccine is also 72 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 infections 28 days after vaccination.

While the results are positive, they garnered mixed reactions from parents, with some favoring the convenience of a potential single-shot vaccine for kids, while others shared they’d be willing to accept two shots for a higher rate of protection against the coronavirus if they had a choice. (Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, which require two doses, offer around 95 percent protection.)

Currently, there are no COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in young children yet. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is approved for teens ages 16 and older, while Moderna’s vaccine is authorized for ages 18 and older.

Parents are divided about the latest COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson. (Photo: Getty Images)
Parents are divided about the latest COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson. (Photo: Getty Images)

Pfizer recently announced that its vaccine trials for children ages 12 to 15 are now fully enrolled, according to CNBC, while Moderna is reportedly struggling to find adolescents ages 12 to 18 years old for its trials.

“You need to have safety data,” Dr. Octavio Ramilo, chief of infectious diseases at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, tells Yahoo Life. “They want to have that data before moving to a younger group.”

There have been more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 in children in the U.S., and 200 children have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But in general, children’s rates of hospitalization and death are “significantly lower” than those of adults, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, most children with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms, states the CDC.

Parents weigh in

Brooke Buettner, a mom of two in Atlanta, tells Yahoo Life that if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were the first one approved and available for children ages 9 to 12, she would let her kids get it. “I'd feel better knowing they had something in them,” Buettner says. “Even though it is lower, 72 percent is better than 0 percent.”

Lauren Weitzman, a mom of three in San Francisco, tells Yahoo Life, “I would prefer the more effective vaccines,” referring to Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines. That said, she adds, “I would happily settle for [one made by] Johnson & Johnson.”

Despite its slightly lower percentage of effectiveness, Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine candidate has its advantages over the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which both require a second dose spaced 21 days and 28 days apart, respectively. Ramilo says there’s “no question” vaccinations would be administered faster if only one dose were needed.

A single shot may also be preferable for some parents, including those whose children are nervous around needles and would have a hard time with multiple shots. “I would presume it’s a lot more appealing,” Lysa Puma, a mom of two in Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Life, “but it’s not only about fear” of needles. She explains that convenience is key. “It simplifies trying to get a second appointment, finding a time that works to go to the place and possibly driving a long distance to a faraway vaccination location two times,” Puma says. “In addition, it would allow any post-vaccine symptoms to only occur once.”

On the other hand, some parents feel the inconvenience of a second dose is worth it if it offers greater protection against COVID-19. “A single shot for kids would make it more convenient,” shares Weitzman. “But I wouldn’t optimize for convenience.”

While Buettner acknowledges that fewer shots “would be great,” she adds, “Honestly, even if they told me it was four shots, I’d still get it! Anything to be able to see friends and family and travel again.”

Since COVID-19 appears to affect children differently than adults, some parents may also be more flexible about which vaccine their children eventually get. “It would matter to me if I were to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because my husband and I need the highest protection possible,” says Puma. “But for children, who naturally show more immunity to COVID, I would be thrilled for my 13-year-old to get [the brand’s vaccine] over no protection.”

There’s no fair comparison

However, experts note it’s not entirely fair to compare the effectiveness rate of a single-dose vaccine with ones that require two doses. “We don’t have careful data on each vaccine with one dose,” Ramilo tells Yahoo Life. “None of them have been compared head-to-head,” adding: “Considering it’s one dose, it’s very encouraging.”

Ramilo says the most crucial information is, “We now have a number of vaccines that have demonstrated significant effectiveness” adding, “Whether they prevent 72 percent or 95 percent — something [they all have in] common is that they prevent mortality and severe disease, and that’s a really important point.”

Johnson & Johnson is expected to file for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration next week, according to the Washington Post. “I think it’s going to get approved,” says Ramilo. And experts estimate that the vaccine could be available by late February or early March.

When can parents expect a COVID vaccine for children?

At a White House coronavirus briefing on Jan. 29, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he’s hoping children will start receiving COVID-19 vaccinations by the summer, according to the Associated Press. “Hopefully by the time we get to the late spring and early summer, we will have children being able to be vaccinated.”

Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., previously told Yahoo Life why it will take a while for children to get vaccinated: “I keep telling patients that, realistically, between testing, authorization, distribution and supply, it will be six months — maybe more.” Fisher added: “They are back of the line because of who COVID strikes hardest and first.”

For parents who are hoping their kids will be vaccinated and able to return to in-person school in the fall, Ramilo says that there’s “an opportunity” to make that happen, particularly if a third vaccine is approved soon. “I think it’s going to be a huge effort,” Ramilo says. “It might be tight, but it might be doable.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.