December 10, 2021

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

A survey just out from the Public Religion Research Institute will ignite some passions. It found that Americans are fed up with people who refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines, and few Americans “say that the COVID-19 vaccine goes against their personal religious beliefs (13%) or that the teachings of their religion prohibit them from getting vaccinated (10%).”

About half of people who oppose vaccines say the shots violate their religious beliefs.

59% of respondents said too many people are claiming religious exemptions from vaccine mandates and 45% said nobody should be able to make such a claim.

But the survey says the majority of Americans do see a place for people who are serious about claiming a religious conflict with immunizations, especially if they have a track record for making such claims about other vaccinations:

Majorities of Americans say religious exemption should be granted if someone has a document from a religious leader (51%), a record of refusing other vaccinations (55%), or belongs to a religious group that has a record of refusing other vaccines (57%). Fewer Americans (39%) believe anyone who says the vaccine goes against their religious beliefs should qualify for an exemption.

Two-thirds of vaccinated Americans are ‘angry’ at anti-vaxxers, but anti-vaxxers are angry, too

A pro-vaccine ad at a Times Square subway station in New York City on Nov. 13, 2021. (Rainmaker Photos/MediaPunch /IPX)

The PRRI survey also gives us a glimpse at the growing impatience over people’s refusal to get vaccinated and equal impatience with people who try to force others to take the vaccine against their will. Here is the data:

  • Two-thirds of Americans who are vaccinated (67%) agree that they are “angry at those who are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and are putting the rest of us at risk.”
  • Vaccinated Democrats (84%) are twice as likely as vaccinated Republicans (43%) to say they are angry at those who refuse to get vaccinated.
  • On the other side, more than seven in ten unvaccinated Americans (71%) say they are “angry at those who think they have the right to tell me to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”
  • Four in ten Americans (42%) agree with the statement “The government is not telling us about other treatments for COVID-19 that are just as effective as the vaccine.” Republicans (62%) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (23%) to believe in this conspiracy theory, and white evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group among whom a majority (62%) believe this conspiracy theory.
  • One in five Americans (19%) say that disagreements over COVID-19 vaccinations have caused major conflicts in their families, compared to 80% who disagree.

NPR explored the survey in this report. And this is NPR’s story focused on the part of the survey that deals with religious exemptions.

Pfizer CEO says you may need a fourth dose, maybe next year

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said it is possible that a year after your first vaccine dose, you may need a fourth dose.

When will we vaccinate babies for COVID-19?

Drug trials are underway right now to test the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines on children ages six months to five years. The University of Wisconsin, for example, announced:

Researchers for the KidCOVE clinical trial have sought enrollment of approximately 4,000 children in North America in each group (vaccine or placebo), spread over 75 to 100 study sites in the United States and Canada. The Moderna vaccine is administered in two doses, four weeks apart. Participation in the trial lasts 14 months with at least four follow-up appointments during that time.

Pfizer is also running pediatric vaccine trials. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the shots will likely be available in spring 2022. Pfizer hopes to have some data to present to the Food and Drug Administration as early as this month.

You may have seen a story out of Brazil where two newborn babies were mistakenly given the Pfizer vaccine rather than the usual childhood vaccines and the babies suffered a severe reaction. The Mayo Clinic reminds us that while most young children do not react to the virus with severe illness, some do:

Babies under age 1 might be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 than older children. This is likely due to their immature immune systems and smaller airways, which make them more likely to develop breathing issues with respiratory virus infections.

Newborns can become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 during childbirth or by exposure to sick caregivers after delivery.

Babies under age 1 might be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 than older children. This is likely due to their immature immune systems and smaller airways, which make them more likely to develop breathing issues with respiratory virus infections.

Newborns can become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 during childbirth or by exposure to sick caregivers after delivery.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, in the U.S. children represent about 16% of all COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 in children has been on the rise in the U.S., with children recently making up 24% of just over 100,000 weekly reported cases of COVID-19.

While all children are capable of getting the virus that causes COVID-19, they don’t become sick as often as adults. Most children have mild symptoms or no symptoms.

FDA authorizes boosters for teens, parents still reluctant about vaccines

One day after preliminary testing showed two doses plus a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine provided significant protection against the virus, including the latest omicron variant, the FDA approved a booster dose for 16- and 17-year-olds.

But the newest polling just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that three in 10 parents say they will definitely not get their children vaccinated. In fact, the percentage of vaccinated children in the country is barely budging. And as you see in these charts, the percentage of parents who say their child will definitely not be vaccinated or who are waiting for now has not changed much since summer.



The new survey found:

Unsurprisingly, most unvaccinated parents say they will “definitely not” get their 12-17 year-old or their 5-11 year-old vaccinated for COVID-19.

Among vaccinated parents, three in four say their 12-17 year-old has already gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

However, when it comes to children ages 5 to 11, vaccinated parents express less enthusiasm, with:

fewer than half (46%) saying they have already gotten their younger child vaccinated or will do so right away and 39% saying they will wait and see before getting their younger child vaccinated.

The real value of this survey for journalists is the section where parents reveal why they have not gotten their children vaccinated. This chart gives you some foundation for the news decisions you make. You would be most helpful to your audiences if you helped to answer the questions they still have about vaccines, even if you think you have answered these questions a hundred times before, and you probably have.


A whopping two-thirds of parents say schools should not require vaccination. Even among parents whose children are vaccinated, 52% said schools should not require the shots.

The polling found that the single most convincing source of information about vaccines, especially for vaccination-reluctant parents, is their children’s pediatrician. Four in 10 adults say when they talked to their kid’s doctor, it made them more willing to get the child vaccinated. Of course, some of the most unvaccinated populations do not have a regular health provider for their children.

Trust in the CDC dropped

Why would parents have so many questions about the safety of vaccines when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, says vaccines are both safe and effective?

A Kaiser study provided some useful background to keep in mind. When the pandemic began, the public had a strongly favorable opinion of the CDC’s reliability. That has suffered some in the months that followed.

The CDC has shared information about the safety of vaccines for children, including data that shows that serious side effects are rare. But parents’ trust in the CDC has dropped from 66% in July to 57% in November, according to Kaiser.

CNN reminds us that parents do not make quick decisions when their children’s safety is at stake:

Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious disease, said that it’s common for parents to take a cautious approach when it comes to their children.

“Generally what we’ve seen throughout the years is that parents tend to be more careful with their kids than themselves,” O’Leary told CNN. “It’s one of those things that predates the pandemic. When you ask parents about their concerns, safety is almost always at the top, and they frequently say they don’t have enough information.”

FDA approves antiviral medication for babies

The FDA just approved an anti-viral drug for babies who are infected with COVID-19. Reuters reports:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 dual-antibody therapy in treating mild to moderate symptoms in all children, including newborns, who are at risk of severe illness.

The therapy, bamlanivimab plus etesevimab, was previously authorized for children aged 12 years and older and weighed at least 88 pounds.

We’ll be back Monday with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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