Patricia Smithson, 23, was thinking about her aunt in New York who died of COVID-19 alone when she decided to get her vaccine.
Benny Romero, 24, has not found time to get his yet and can wait a little longer.
Gracie Poynter, 21, knows her concerns about the safety of the shots could jeopardize her health care job.
They are all part of a group that was once considered a low priority in the country’s vaccine rollout: Generation Z, loosely defined as those in their mid-20s and under. But now that vaccinations are readily available to Americans ages 12 and up, the nation’s delayed vaccination rate is raising alarms among young adults.
This is an ever-pressing concern as the particularly contagious delta variant is circulating in the United States and schools and colleges ready to return to personal classes this fall.
“Now is the window of opportunity,” Judy Klein, president of the Unity Consortium, a nonprofit organization that advocates vaccine protection for teens and young adults, told the United States TODAY. If high proportions of unvaccinated students show up at schools, it’s a recipe for COVID outbreaks and another semester tracked by the virus, she fears.
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A June report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only about half of adults under the age of 24 were “vaccinated or determined to be vaccinated.” The report called for the group’s low vaccination rates compared to other age groups, but noted that a large number of young adults had not yet made up their minds.
Smithson, a health care professional from Orlando, Florida, was once among them. She was initially wary of rolling up her sleeve for the COVID-19 vaccine due to its rapid development and release.
“Suddenly, this vaccine was out of nowhere,” Smithson said. “And it was made in less than a year; it was just a little hesitation about what exactly I was putting in my body. ”
The turning point for Smithson was the number of people in her own life who died of COVID-19, including her aunt, Gloria. Smithson said she realized she “knew more people who died from COVID than people who died who got the vaccine.”
The memory of her aunt’s last days is haunting: “She was sick in the apartment for about three days before they rushed her to the hospital,” Smithson said. “And before they took her, they let my uncles and my cousins know, ‘Say your last goodbyes, for this is probably the last you will see her.’ And she did not die too long after that.
“She was alone; there was no one with her. A good portion of the family was not even able to go to the funeral because of everything that was going on. It was pretty tragic. ”
Benefits of COVID vaccine versus side effects
Smithson’s personal experience helped ease her concerns about the vaccine, but millions of young Americans are still unsure. Experts told USA TODAY, young adults are facing a stream of misinformation about the vaccine from social media and a long-standing story that COVID-19 is primarily ill in older adults.
And they are being asked to make the decision in the midst of a dizzying return to a more normal life as the nation largely drops pandemic restrictions.
Poynter – who works in Indiana as a patient assistant – said she is not against vaccinations in general. But the COVID vaccine is too new for her to not feel well in her body.
Romero – who works for UPS in Texas – is likely to get the vaccine but has decided to postpone it. He compared the decision to waiting to buy a new game console “wait a minute until like all bugs were taken out.”
CDC data show that these concerns are common: More than half of the young adults surveyed who were undecided or likely to be vaccinated said they were concerned about possible side effects. A similar number said they planned to wait to see if the vaccine is safe.
Amy Middleman, who practices juvenile medicine with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and is a board member of the Unity Consortium, will encourage young adults with these concerns to consider the documented health consequences of COVID-19.
“The benefits of vaccination clearly outweigh the risks at this point,” she said. Some of the concerns about long-term side effects she hears from patients are rumors that are not supported by science.
Young adults who have this fear should feel confident in the “incredibly thorough” review process for vaccines and safety monitoring, Middleman said.
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Tiffany Menendez, 24, had a similar thought process when she decided to get the vaccine.
The side effects she experienced were fleeting: “I only got a little sick, just a day or two, but I hear with COVID … you get sick for a while and you even have side effects that linger in your body for longer time than just a week or two, potentially in life, ”Menendez told the United States TODAY.
“So it’s very important for me to get the vaccine … and not have that COVID disease in my body.”
Dr. Shira Abeles, a specialist in infectious diseases with the University of California San Diego Health, said these concerns are well-founded.
She remembers the horrific scenes for people in their 30s on fans who died. Others suffered “unexplained fatigue” for several months.
In the meantime, the side effects of the vaccine can be managed with Tylenol. “That’s not the case with COVID,” she said.
Gen Z’s ‘altruistic’ vaccine motifs
Many in Gen Z think about their own health when making the decision to be vaccinated, but a consideration for the well-being of others motivates some to get the vaccine.
Brittney Baack, an epidemiologist and co-author of the CDC report, told the USA TODAY that the study showed that protecting friends and family was a top priority for young adults.
Klein said that the motives of the generation are often “altruistic”.
Ellen Murray, 23, felt the importance of protecting her parents in Atlanta, who are in their 60s and more vulnerable to the virus, throughout the pandemic. It continued even after she was vaccinated due to the state’s low vaccination rates.
“I think the responsibility for someone else’s health is much more strenuous, and it’s much more stressful to be potentially concerned – just as a very small mistake you make can have extreme catastrophic effects on your parents ‘health or your grandparents’. health, “she said.
Caroline Allen, 21, said she took every precaution to protect her health and relied on guidance from the scientific community to navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. Allen said she “wore my mask as if it were my skin,” kept her social circle small and refrained from buying food for meals from restaurants.
But when she was vaccinated in Orlando, she did not think to herself, “I got it [the vaccine] for my grandmother, ”Allen told the USA TODAY.
Allen’s grandmother, Dorothy, who would have turned 100 in September, died of COVID-19 in January.
“She kept saying, ‘Well, I’m only coming in line when they omit these vaccines,’ so I got it for her. ‘
This article was originally published in the US TODAY: COVID Vaccine: Gen Z is not in a hurry – but do they have time to wait?