'A lot of my friends are scared': Vaccine-hesitant young adults may delay herd immunity

UCSF research shows 25% of unvaccinated 18 to 25-year-olds say they "probably will not" or "definitely will not" get the vaccine.

Kate Larsen Image
ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
How vaccine-hesitant young adults may delay herd immunity
UCSF researchers say vaccine skepticism among young adults may delay any hope of herd immunity in the U.S.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Health officials say unvaccinated Americans are driving the current COVID-19 surge sweeping across the country. Daily U.S. vaccination rates are down nearly 50% since last week. Now, UCSF researchers say vaccine skepticism among young adults may delay any hope of herd immunity in the U.S.

RELATED: Doctors investigate rare COVID breakthrough cases infecting vaccinated Californians

New UCSF research says one in four unvaccinated 18 to 25-year-olds say they "probably will not" or "definitely will not" get a COVID vaccine.

"A lot of my friends are scared to get it," said Emonike Ekbeso, who is from Rockville, Maryland. But she says after her parents got coronavirus, she got the vaccine to keep her family safe. "I also got COVID and my brother as well, so I knew it was no joke."

"They don't believe in vaccination, they think it's a hoax," said 17-year-old Samuel Smith about some of his peers in school. Smith lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and drove to Mississippi to get his vaccine. "One day we heard it opened up and we drove through a tornado to get my first vaccine dose."

VIDEO: Vaccinated CA man gets breakthrough COVID case after trip to Las Vegas, spreads to family

A California man says he contracted coronavirus on a trip to Las Vegas, despite being vaccinated. Doctors believe the Delta variant may be to blame.

"There is some misinformation on social media and that can be really overwhelming, especially as a teenager in lockdown there was so much constantly coming at us," explained Morgan Hill, California resident, Delaney Erbin, who is vaccinated.

Sally Adams, PhD and RN, and Dr. Charles Irwin with UCSF's Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, used data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in March from more than 5,000 young adults for their study.

"50% said they needed to wait and see, and might get the vaccine when they feel they understand that it's safe. Another 50% said they were concerned about side effects from the vaccine, and then around 44% said that they were concerned maybe other people needed the vaccine more than they did," said Adams.

RELATED: Vaccine hesitancy in the Bay Area is the lowest in California

The concerns are then compounded by a lack of good information, according to Irwin.

"Young adults do not come into the doctor's office very frequently, they have the lowest utilization rate of any age group," said Irwin, who continued, "so one of the trusted resources that they could get information from, clinicians, they're not seeing those individuals"

But Irwin wants young people to know this: "they're not being subjected to an experiment".

So what will work?

San Rafael resident, Duncan Cox, says starting college is a big incentive for his friends. "He told me he had to be vaccinated for school and that was the thing that finally pushed him over the edge."

Having trouble viewing this map? Click here to view in a new window.

UCSF researchers recommend that young adults' concerns about vaccine safety and side effects are addressed via public education campaigns.

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

Having trouble loading the tracker above? Click here to open it in a new window. RELATED STORIES & VIDEOS: