COVID vaccine hesitancy among young adults may make herd immunity unreachable

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Experts believe it will take about 80 percent of the population getting the COVID-19 vaccine to reach “herd immunity” level. Unfortunately, a new study by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco reports that vaccine hesitancy among young adults may make the notion of herd immunity more of a fantasy than a reality.

According to the research, about one in four unvaccinated adults between the ages of 18 and 25 “probably will not” or “definitely will not” get a COVID-19 vaccination. Making matters worse is the fact that health officials now believe this specific age group is the most likely to transmit the coronavirus; meaning vaccine hesitancy among young adults could jeopardize the health of older adults or lead to the emergence of yet another COVID variant.

5 in 6 young adults are still passing on the COVID vaccine

The team analyzed data collected in March 2021 for the Household Pulse Survey, encompassing 5,082 respondents. In all, the study finds 83 percent have not been vaccinated. Ten percent add they definitely will not get the vaccine and 14 percent “probably” won’t get the vaccine.

Studies during the pandemic show very few young adults in good health pass away from a COVID-19 infection. However, the 18-29 age group still accounts for over 20 percent of all COVID-19 cases.

“Young adults who have had COVID, regardless of symptoms, may be vulnerable to long-term complications and debilitating symptoms that may include respiratory difficulties, loss of smell and brain fog, often referred to as ‘long COVID.’ Estimates range from 10 to 50 percent for long COVID symptoms, which is a serious concern for young adults given their high infection rates and low vaccination rates,” says lead author Sally Adams, PhD, RN, of the UCSF National Adolescent and Young Adult Health Information Center, in a university release.

“Prompt vaccinations could help limit the further development of virulent variants and infection rates among the vulnerable and unvaccinated,” she adds.

Why are young adults so hesitant to get the vaccine?

Over half of respondents expressing vaccine skepticism say they worry about experiencing side-effects from the shots. Another 50 percent add their plan is to wait a bit longer until they’re certain the vaccine is safe. One in three flat out admit to “not trusting” the vaccine.

Study authors also point out that recent headlines regarding rare cases of heart inflammation following the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be scaring many young adults away from the vaccines.

“It’s important to note that the rate of heart inflammation in young people who have been vaccinated is only slightly higher than in young people who have not been vaccinated. In most cases, symptoms are mild and resolve with minimal treatment,” explains senior author Charles Irwin Jr., MD, director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. “As a result, the majority of providers support the CDC and other advisory bodies that continue to recommend the vaccine for everyone age 12 or older.”

“Education and public health messaging encouraging young adult vaccination is needed, ideally harnessing social media and key influencers,” he concludes, “including clinicians who have a key role in reducing vaccine hesitancy in youth and adult patients.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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