This study aimed to describe and critically evaluate the COVID-19 vaccination program for high-risk children in Curacao and provide information about important factors such as parents’ vaccination hesitancy and effective strategies for communicating and delivering information about vaccination.
This was a cross-sectional study. It was important to identify children aged 12–17 years who were at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection because of the limited medical facilities on the island; children considered to be at high risk were those with diseases such as obesity, hypertension or diabetes mellitus type 2. These children or their caregivers were invited by their pediatricians to be vaccinated as part of a program run by the Public Health Department of Curacao. These high-risk patients were vaccinated between 30 May 2021 and 25 February 2022 in designated child-friendly spaces, with a pediatrician present for guidance and reassurance. Children received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the recommended dose for their age. The primary outcome was a description and evaluation of the attendance for vaccination. The secondary outcomes were side effects after vaccination for the age groups 12–15 years and 16–17 years. Reasons for refusal or nonadherence were also registered.
Altogether 51% (24/47) of those aged 16–17 years who were invited were vaccinated compared with 42% (26/69) of those aged 12–15 years who were invited. Altogether, 46% of these high-risk children were vaccinated compared with 48% of children aged 12–17 years without risk factors. In our population, most patients did not experience any side effects and if they did, the side effects were mild. No cases of myocarditis or pericarditis were observed. A lack of trust in the vaccine and a lack of prioritization of vaccination when scheduling daily activities were important factors in refusal and nonadherence.
To organize a successful vaccination program in a small community with limited resources for treating high-risk children it is crucial for medical professionals to provide reliable information. Public health initiatives should focus on assuaging parents’ fears about vaccines. In addition, ensuring there is good cooperation between doctors and the Public Health Department can help to make implementation successful. Finally, involving pediatricians and using dedicated areas for vaccinating children can help build trust with parents and caregivers.