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Vaccinating Young People on Our Path to Herd Immunity

by Lauren V. Williams

            The Biden Administration just announced its latest goal to vaccinate 70% of Americans with at least one dose by July 4th. Reaching this new challenging goal will be impossible unless the Administration increases vaccinations amongst young people. Although this group is straddled with little time, few incentives and rampant misinformation, the Biden administration has a golden opportunity to capitalize on the facets of young Americans’ daily lives.

            Fortunately, 75% of respondents aged 14 to 24 said that they were willing to get the vaccine or already had in recent study. However, willingness to get the vaccine doesn’t always translate to actual vaccinations. According to the CDC, only 37% of 18- to 29-year-olds have received at least one dose. 

            The first incentive for young people to get vaccinated may be their school. Over a 100 colleges and universities are already requiring students to get a COVID vaccine to return to campus. While this will motivate many, these mandates may be difficult to implement in Republican-governed states. Given that many college campuses only have flu vaccinations rates between 8% to 39%, missing this opportunity could be devastating. 

            Health officials should partner with individual schools to create mass vaccination sites and informational campaigns. Schools should be encouraged to lift restrictions on in-person classes, parties and extracurricular events in exchange for high campus vaccination rates. The more students can see that getting vaccinated means a return to normal life, the more incentivized they’ll be.

            For those who have already migrated into the work force, expanding financial benefits may be the best option. Many young people struggle with low wage jobs and busy schedules. A $100 bond reward, like those being offered by the state of West Virginia, may be enough to cover a day off work, a crucial payment or even just a night out. In fact, a third of unvaccinated people would be more likely to get the vaccine if they are given a cash reward. 

            Perhaps by far, social media may be the most important space the vaccination campaign must tackle. About 60% of young people get their news from sites like Instagram, Twitter and Face book. The Biden Administration and social media platforms should expand on the grassroots activism that some young people themselves have created. Over 20 universities are now part of the “Covid Campus Coalition”, a campaign started by students at Cornell University to create striking infographics that answer common COVID-related questions and misinformation. This allows young people to become their own micro-influencers that can easily repost positive, correct information to their friends. 

            Hopefully, arming young people with the correct information on social media will help bridge the gap between the abstract and the real. Some bars have become vaccination sites with their “get a shot, take a shot” initiatives. Festivals and concerts are slowly reopening by including vaccination confirmation in the price of admission. Restaurants are hosting dinner parties for the fully vaccinated. If young people feel assured through social media that the vaccine is safe, then a vaccine in exchange for in-person socializing seems like a small price to pay. 

            Young people are a key demographic in the fight against coronavirus. There are over 40 million 18- to 29-year-olds in the United States. While they are less likely to get fatally ill from the virus, they can easily spread the disease to older and more vulnerable populations. In addition, the likelihood of developing more contagious and deadly variants grows the longer the virus circulates. It only takes a look at India to see that a young people will not be relatively immune to this disease forever.

Lauren V. Williams
Lauren V. Williams

Lauren V. Williams is a Yale undergraduate from Chicago, Illinois. As the founder of The Young Vote, her mission is to elevate the voices of young people in the political sphere.