boy getting vaccinated

Adolescents with ADHD more hesitant to get COVID-19 vaccine

boy getting vaccinatedAdolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) report greater hesitancy and less confidence in COVID-19 vaccine safety compared to adolescents without ADHD, a new study finds.

For all adolescents in the study, those who identified as Black or Latino — and came from families with lower income levels — were more likely to be vaccine hesitant and report lower confidence in the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Whereas greater COVID-19 concerns, compliance to social distancing guidelines, media use and perceived negative impact of COVID-19 on relationships was associated with greater vaccination willingness.

The study, led by Melissa Dvorsky, Ph.D., director of ADHD & Learning Differences Program at Children’s National Hospital, also highlighted that:

  • Adolescents with ADHD who engage in large gatherings indoors are at greater risk for vaccine hesitancy.
  • Interventions should target social-cognitive processes for adolescent vaccination.

“Adolescents with ADHD being more vaccine hesitant is perhaps in part due to core risk mechanisms associated with ADHD, likely impacting planning, motivation and execution of vaccination, adolescents’ risk appraisal, and perceived susceptibility to COVID-19,” Dr. Dvorsky said. “Our study also found key social mechanisms predicted increased vaccine acceptance and uptake, and these factors should be leveraged in ongoing initiatives addressing vaccine uptake among teens.”

Findings have important implications for health and mental health providers and educational strategies aimed at promoting COVID-19 vaccinations in adolescents.

Earlier this month, Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Health announced amplified efforts to encourage families to vaccinate youth ahead of the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, sending a message that students must get caught up on vaccinations over the summer. In addition to expanding access to vaccination services, a concerted effort, Dvorsky added, is needed to increase trust, confidence, motivation and social relevance among adolescents. This is especially true for those with ADHD and from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

“As health and mental health care providers, we are uniquely positioned to offer effective communication using strong, presumptive language with all adolescents in our community to address vaccine hesitancy. Adolescents with ADHD, in particular, can benefit from frequent behavioral ‘nudges’ (such as prompts or reminders, automatic appointments) and social/motivational strategies (such as social network interventions, peer-delivered approaches, motivational interviewing) to increase vaccine uptake.”

It’s important to note that research addressing adolescent COVID-19 vaccination willingness and readiness remains scarce.

The study included 196 adolescents (87 male) ages 16-18 from two sites in the Southeastern and Midwestern United States. Participants were high school students in 11th and 12th grade during the 2020-2021 school year. Participants came from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, with 21% of families falling below the 2019 U.S. median household income ($68,703). Approximately half of the participants were comprehensively diagnosed with ADHD prior to COVID-19.