Using TikTok to Combat Vaccine Hesitancy: How Can Public Health Officials Reach Teens (and Their Parents)?

This week, AM analysts are tracking parents’ attitudes towards getting their children vaccinated against COVID-19 as the FDA authorizes the Pfizer vaccine for the nation’s nearly 17 million 12- to 15-year-olds.  Our findings show that a growing number of parents and children are on the fence about whether or not to get vaccinated.


A recent study published by Kaiser Family Foundation finds that nearly 1 in 3 participants said they will wait to see how the vaccine works before getting their child vaccinated, and 19% said they definitely wouldn’t get their child vaccinated. Even more alarming, earlier this month, a study published by WebMD found that 75% of parents don’t plan to vaccinate their kids against COVID-19 when the FDA gives the approval for younger children.  


These numbers may suggest that parents are even more cautious when it comes to vaccinating their children and that vaccine hesitancy may stem from uncertainty rather than stern opposition. In fact, research from a study conducted by ParentsTogether finds that parents are concerned about short-term side effects, unknown long-term side effects, the speed of vaccine development, and the lack of opportunity for long-term studies. The study found that a lack of trust in the medical profession is still a big concern for many African American parents. Among this group, a little over 27% of respondents said they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get their children vaccinated compared to white parents (15%) or Hispanic parents (13%). 


As more parents begin to ask the question, “Should I get my child vaccinated,” for many, the decision is not a straightforward one. According to a recently published article from USA Today, doctors are seeing both sides of the coin. “People are naturally more cautious with their children,” said Mary Carol Burkhardt, a pediatrician and associate division director for primary care at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “Some parents want to be first in line and want to get their kids protected … on the other side, we have a lot of families who are not hesitant but don’t want to be first.” Overall, vaccines have shown to be safe and effective with minor side effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Any vaccine can cause side effects. For the most part, these are minor (for example, a sore arm or low-grade fever) and go away within a few days.”  


AM analysts also found that uncertainty is not the only factor driving vaccine hesitancy. USA Today reports that anti-vaccine lies and conspiracies are still surging on social media sites such as TikTok, which is popular with both children and teens and has at least 100 million users in the United States. While TikTok is working to prohibit false or misleading content about COVID-19 and vaccines, the hashtags #VaccinesKill and #plandemic are still being used in videos with millions of views, the report said. Videos with the #NoVaccine label racked up 20.5 million views and videos using the hashtag depopulation had a total of 11.7 million views on TikTok.  


After a recent review of hashtags on TikTok, AM’s analysts found roughly 737,000 TikToks with anti-COVID vaccines hashtags. AM’s analysts also uncovered the following anti-COVID vaccine hashtags on Twitter: #novaccineforkids, #leaveourkidsalone, and #nojabs.  


While some parents may want to vaccinate their children against COVID-19, videos and hashtags on TikTok and other social media sites are impressionable to teens and may contribute to vaccine hesitancy among Gen Z. According to a NBCLX/Morning Consult poll conducted last month, 26% of respondents said they will not get vaccinated, and 19% said that they do not yet know whether they will. In a similar poll conducted last year, only 5% of Gen Z said that they would not get vaccinated, demonstrating a significant increase in vaccine hesitancy.  


Vaccinating teens presents the next great challenge for public health officials. When planning outreach strategies, it will be important to create multiple campaigns that will appeal to both groups – teens and their parents. Generic research and messaging will work on a large number of people, but to persuade those with strong opinions, a more targeted and personalized approach will be required. Therefore, it is imperative for health professionals to use platforms like TikTok to dispel misinformation and educate teens about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines using trusted voices.

Want the latest insights on COVID-19? To find out how AM TRACE can help you with vaccine messaging strategies, vaccine management and distribution, testing coordination, and contract tracing, contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea, Chief Experience Officer at   

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