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Wellness Wednesday: fighting COVID vaccine hesitancy in young adults, teens

Posted at 9:06 AM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 10:50:17-04

IDAHO — While the United States didn't reach a July 4th vaccination goal set by the Biden Administration, people are still lining up to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Reaching herd immunity through mass vaccinations is one of the ways experts say we can finally put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, but two age groups are slowing efforts because of vaccine hesitancy.

One recent poll shows Generation Z (18-23 years old) and millennials (24-34 years old) are now the two generations most likely not planning to or are unsure whether they'll get vaccinated. Some surveys show adults in these age groups believe they're not as likely to experience complications or even die from COVID, but that's not the case.

"Although younger folks are a little more protected in terms of having the severe impact compared to older folks, there are some folks that do contract COVID and then go on to have significant impacts relative to the outcome of getting infected," explains Dr. Jim Polo, an Executive Medical Director for Regence BlueShield. "It's not safe to assume that just because somebody is young they might not have difficulty with infection."

As much of the information related to COVID is being shared online, myths related to the three COVID vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are also being shared, including misinformation surrounding fertility in young adults.

It's something Dr. Polo says has been used against virtually all vaccines and debunked each time.

"There is no evidence to show that vaccination by any vaccine, let alone COVID, is going to affect fertility. From a scientific perspective, that actually wouldn't make a lot of sense," says Dr. Polo. "For whatever reason, folks have heard this myth, they latch onto it, and they use it as a way to not want to get vaccinated."

With older Americans getting their vaccines, experts say it's up to younger adults to get their shots now to fully put an end to the pandemic.

"It actually is critical that they get vaccinated for a variety of reasons. First of all, older folks, if they are vaccinated and protected, can still be exposed to other folks that are not vaccinated and potentially have what's called a breakthrough infection. Currently, studies demonstrate that about 97% of all people that are currently getting COVID infections are unvaccinated, and out of the people that are getting hospitalized, it's 99%," says Dr. Polo.

When polled, many in Gen Z say they're taking a "wait and see" approach. Studies suggest it may mean changing the messaging about the vaccine to reach Gen Z.

"The key here is to keep in mind that almost 250 million people in the United States alone have already received a vaccine, so in terms of waiting and seeing, it's very clear that the data demonstrates that the risk of an adverse impact or an adverse event relative to getting vaccinated is extremely, extremely low and the benefit of being protected against hospitalization or severe outcome from having been infected is much better," Dr. Polo adds.

More than 159 million Americans are fully vaccinated at this time, but COVID vaccinations have slowed since spring, opening the door for COVID variants to develop and spread quickly. The delta variant, in particular, is leading to major concern for unvaccinated pockets of the US, but experts across the board agree the best way you can protect yourself is by getting your vaccine.

"The studies seem to demonstrate that the delta variant is more aggressive in terms of being infective and more contagious in terms of people that contract the delta variant. Studies show the Pfizer, as well as the Moderna, vaccine is equally protective against the delta variant and show upwards of about an 88% protective, in terms of efficiency against preventing folks from having a severe impact or getting hospitalized," adds Dr. Polo.

If you have lingering questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Polo says there are online sources you can turn to, but you'll want to make sure you're looking at reputable resources. That includes the CDC, local health care systems, health districts, and Regence.