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Teens taking lead in encouraging peers to get COVID vaccine

Posted June 23, 2021 5:33 p.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2021 9:12 a.m. EDT

— Teenagers in Wake County are taking charge of the conversation about getting their peers vaccinated against COVID-19. Currently, those ages 12 to 18 are lagging behind when it comes to getting a shot in North Carolina.

Teenagers make up 8 percent of North Carolina's population, but only 3 percent are vaccinated. Vaccination among teens peaks in the first week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for kids 12 and up. During that week, teens made up 40 percent of those getting the shots. Last week, teens were just 23 percent of the total.

Coronavirus vaccinations in NC

The Wake County Youth Advisory Board – 70 teens from across the county – is engaging with friends and family to get real with each other about the virus and vaccines.

Teens on the advisory board said they've heard it all from adults and their friends.

"Within my family, it's been a little trick sometimes ... it's been a subject you just kind of avoid," said Patrick Finkbiner.

"You're not going to get microchipped, I promise you," added Sophia Norris.

"Kids aren't used to adults coming down and asking for their opining about how it's been for you," said Abi O'Toole.

"Teens need to be able to have a chance to ask questions and get honest answers to those questions so they can make decisions, and so they're empowered to protect their own health," said Heather Schaffer, with North Carolina State University's Cooperative Extension.

A recent poll shows that a majority of young adults would either not get a vaccine, or would "wait" to get one. Young adults who are low-wage earners are more likely to be skeptical about the vaccine, a Morning Consult Poll found.

"Even though we're strong and we're healthy, especially to my fellow friends, it doesn't mean we can't give it to somebody without even knowing," said O'Toole.

White House officials have warned in the past that younger adults who only experience a mild COVID-19 infection still have a chance of developing long-term, chronic illnesses related to the virus.

The teenagers said their goal in having conversations with their peers is to work together to come out of the pandemic.

"Just get your vaccine, stay safe, and wear a mask," said Norris. "I hope we can all put this in the past."

Wake County leaders said the youth advisory board is also helping the county learn how to better communicate health messages to teens. They added that they hope to keep the group going as regional youth councils with a focus on health issues after the pandemic.

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