Vaccine hesitancy among the young hampering herd COVID-19 immunity

A large portion of young adults are still saying they likely won’t get the shots.

As the country tries to pull itself out of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine hesitancy among young adults may be hampering the push toward herd immunity, when about 80 percent of a population is vaccinated against the disease.

According to a news release, a study from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) found that about 25 percent of unvaccinated people age 18 to 25 say they “probably will not” or “definitely will not” get the COVID-19 vaccination despite the cohort being more likely than other age groups to transmit the disease. This jeopardizes the health of older unvaccinated adults and facilitates the rise of virus variants.

The study gathered March 2021 survey responses from 5,082 and found that 83 percent of respondents said they were unvaccinated. A further 10 percent say they definitely will not get the vaccine and 14 percent say they probably won’t, the release says.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that very few 18 to 29-year-olds die of COVID-19 compared to older cohorts, but the age group accounts for more than 20 percent of the total COVID-19 cases to date and as many as one-in-three young adults are at risk of a severe case of the disease, according to the release.

"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,'” lead author Sally Adams, PhD, RN, of the UCSF National Adolescent and Young Adult Health Information Center, says in the release. “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.”

More than half of the respondents who said they were likely or definitely not getting vaccinated said they were concerned about possible side effects, while half said they planned to wait and see if the vaccine was safe and may receive it later, and a third said they don’t trust the vaccine, the release says.

The authors say that these concerns are best addressed through a public education campaign harnessing social media influencers and including physicians.