The very young are more sceptical of taking a Covid-19 vaccine than older teenagers, a study has shown.
The research carried out on 27,000 pupils aged nine to 18 in England suggests those from the most socioeconomically deprived backgrounds are more likely to shy away from getting jabbed.
Researchers say a lack of information is fuelling scepticism and suggested the government could use social media influencers to raise awareness about jabs.
Those vaccinated were also found to feel less connected to their school community compared to their counterparts in the survey carried out by the University of Oxford, University College London (UCL) and the University of Cambridge.
The findings showed 50 per cent were willing to have a coronavirus vaccination, 37 per cent were undecided and 13 per cent wanted to opt out.
Just over a third (36 per cent) of nine year olds are willing to have a Covid-19 jab, compared with 51 per cent of 13-year-olds and 78 per cent of 17-year-olds.
The results of the survey were released after the UK government this month announced it would offer a single Covid-19 vaccine dose to all 12 to 15-year-olds in England.
Similar programmes are being rolled out in Scotland and Wales.
Parental consent will be sought.
The research shows those who were more hesitant about getting the vaccine were also more likely to spend longer on social media and attend schools in deprived areas.
Those who carried out the survey have called for authorities to do more to reach out to youngsters who may have vaccine concerns.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told a Science Media Centre briefing the younger generation have been ignored by those promoting vaccines.
“Given the huge disruption that has happened in education and for children, I think this study is really important because it’s highlighting that we’ve actually missed this really important group in making sure they have access to information,” he said.
“And of course they don’t access their information by reading the newspaper or watching broadcast news. A lot of it is through social media.”
He added: “We have some work to do in order to improve that.”
Dr Mina Fazel, association professor in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said social media tools needed to be employed to provide information on jabs.
“No matter what we think young people should do, and how we think they should access information, we know that they are accessing information on social media more than others,” she said.
“So we don’t have good evidence that they read leaflets, we don’t necessarily know whether they listen to assemblies at school, so we’ve really got to tailor what we do to what young people say.
“The young people we’ve spoken to are saying that we need to use social media channels. That maybe celebrities getting involved might be a route that they would listen to more.”
Dr Fazel said she is “very interested” in exploring how to use platforms such as TikTok to get the vaccine message across to children.
She touted the idea of using online influencers “who want to learn more about these findings” to be equipped with knowledge about vaccines “in order to provide information in their medium”.
Last week the vaccine rollout for 12 to 15-year-olds in England kicked off in some schools.
More than three million youngsters are eligible to have one jab.
From this week 12 to 15-year-olds in Scotland will be able to get an appointment for a vaccine, while in Wales the scheme will start on October 4.