In the Covid-19 vaccine push, no one is speaking Gen Z’s language

By Nicholas Florko | STAT News | April 8, 2021

WASHINGTON — Useful Covid-19 information isn’t reaching the Instagram generation.

There’s almost no messaging specifically tailored to them from federal or state public health officials. There’s hardly anything official on Tik Tok. And even the limited efforts to reach them where they are — like Instagram’s links to its “Covid-19 information center”— aren’t working.

Just ask Kymon Palau, a 21-year-old from Albuquerque, N.M., who has over 18,000 followers on the site.

“If I am being honest with you, I probably clicked those tags once back in April of last year and never clicked them again — it’s annoying,” Palau said.

Palau isn’t alone — in interviews with more than half a dozen other young people around the country, nearly all said they weren’t opposed to vaccinations — they just couldn’t find information tailored to them.

That lack of information is clearly having an impact. A recent STAT-Harris Poll finds that 21% of Generation Z — defined in the survey as young adults aged 18 to 24 — said they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19 and another 34% said they would “wait awhile and see” before getting vaccinated. The results come on the heels of an NBC-Morning Consult poll that found that 26% of Gen Z said they would not get the vaccine.

“There isn’t anything that is consumable and/or targeted at our demographic,” said Gabrielle Kalisz, a 22-year-old who lives in Washington, D.C., and who has been vaccinated. “All the messaging online … isn’t targeted toward our age group, it doesn’t explain why, if you’re a healthy 19-year-old, you should get this vaccine.”

Numerous public health officials told STAT that the issue of growing vaccine reluctance among young people can be solved with a coordinated campaign of reliable, useful information that makes it both easy and enticing for young people to get vaccinated, even if they may not personally benefit much.

Those same officials acknowledged, however, that much of the groundwork for messaging to young people is yet to be done.

Time is running out: Unvaccinated young people are fueling an exponential uptick in Covid-19 cases in the Midwest, prompting fears of a fourth Covid-19 surge that could spread throughout the United States. Around the world, young people are also increasingly showing up in intensive care units with life-threatening symptoms. The uptick in cases, which experts believe is caused by the increased spread of the coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7, has been so serious that it has prompted one Canadian province to go back into lockdown. Public health officials also fear that reopening universities this fall could fuel regional outbreaks in college towns around the country.

“People keep referring to it as the race against time, but that’s where we are,” Michael Meit, a researcher who holds positions at the University of Chicago and East Tennessee State University’s Center for Rural Health Research. “We need to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible and in particular we need to get the people vaccinated who are the ones who are spreading the virus, and right now the people who are spreading the virus are those younger age groups.”

Read the full story at STAT News.