Young adults, especially those between 16 and 21 years old, play a pivotal role in building confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccinations. Because many within this population have a highly visible presence on social media, they can easily share their care decisions and experiences — and convince others to get on board.
Between heading off to a new job, college, trade school or enlisting in the military, this population of young adults is extremely mobile as many leave their hometowns and establish themselves in new communities. They also make up a large portion of essential workers, which increases their risk of exposure to the virus. As states begin to open back up, vaccinations will be key to helping protect them, their families and friends against COVID-19 and other preventable diseases.
Ultimately, many within this age group will likely sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available so that they may participate in sports, school, work and other social activities. As a key targeted population within vaccine rollout and distribution efforts, our work to empower young adults to take charge of their health can help normalize both the COVID-19 vaccine and, by extension, vaccinations as a whole.
Building confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety and efficacy among young adults will be a large step toward normalizing all vaccinations.
Those who are not getting the COVID-19 vaccine generally are not doing so because of:
- Convenience factors. To date, the COVID-19 vaccine has not been easy to receive for many. Adolescents and young adults may be most likely to get the vaccine when it is available if it is required for activities or events they wish to attend. Even so, many will be looking for easy-to-access locations that do not require an appointment and have minimal wait time. Vaccination followed by immediate gratification of access to a desired result (e.g., the vaccine opens a door to participation in school, activities and events) will no doubt provide a strong catalyst to vaccine adoption and lead these influencers to spread the word.
- Hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy may be an extension of distrust toward the government, providers and the overall health care system. For many individuals in Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, this wariness can be directly tied back to structural racism.
- Complacency or lack of urgency. Individuals who have not been directly impacted by COVID-19 and don’t see the impact of the virus within their direct social circle may not feel the push to get vaccinated. Effective messaging of individual relevance, along with the collective societal urgency to vaccinate, may enhance vaccine adoption.
By approaching vaccination education and vaccine schedule adherence as a standard step in routine care at every health care encounter, we can build better overall vaccine acceptance and adoption throughout the continuum of care.
Empowering young adults to take control of their health
As adolescents transition into young adults, we often see a decline in their number of care visits. This is often due to busy schedules as this population of young people works to balance school and activities with work and their social circles. This trend is also a direct result of young adults beginning to take charge of their own care decisions as they age.
Ages 16 – 21 are formative years for young adults — the lifestyle choices they make during this time often will influence their lives moving forward. Therefore, it’s important that we educate young adults on ways to avoid conditions such as obesity, diabetes, substance use and other diseases that are often a result of lifestyle choices. By helping young adults understand the long-term benefits of heathy habits, routine visits to their provider and how vaccines can protect them, we can move the needle on both individual and overall population health.
Leaning into primary care physician relationships
Young adults may have a primary care physician (PCP) who their families have trusted with their care over the years, and sometimes over their lifetime. As a result, PCPs often have an established relationship with their patients that can be used to help build confidence in vaccines.
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies improve and vaccine distribution is simplified, young adults will have the option to receive their vaccine directly from this trusted source of care. When PCPs see young adult patients for annual exams, they will have a touchpoint to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, and to guide an action step to get vaccinated when available. By discussing vaccination and care decisions during these visits, we can better educate young adults on what is needed to help keep both themselves and their communities healthy.
The role of managed care
Just as PCPs have a unique role in building vaccine confidence, so do managed care organizations (MCOs). Amplifying the importance of a person’s medical home (where they receive the majority of their care) may enhance continuity of care and improve vaccine adoption as supplies and distribution methods improve over time. MCOs not only provide case management, member services resources and pharmacy and provider network connections to ensure high-quality care, but they also have strong relationships with the community-based organizations addressing social determinants of health. The established relationships individuals have with their providers, pharmacists, case managers, community health workers and others in the industry create a foundational trust which can help provide the information and resources needed to help someone make the educated decision to get vaccinated.
The adoption of the COVID-19 vaccine creates an opportunity to improve confidence around vaccinations as a whole. By empowering young adults to make care choices that improve both their health and the health of their community, we can help establish habits that can ultimately improve population health now and in the future.