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Poll of the week: A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that 68% of Americans plan to or already have gotten a Covid-19 vaccine. A sizable minority (27%) say they don’t plan to get the vaccine.
While individual polls differ, this poll is consistent with the general finding that about a fifth to a quarter of Americans indicate that they won’t get the vaccine.
What’s the point: Most Americans want to get vaccinated, but we know from the data that certain groups are more likely than others to say they have or will get a Covid-19 vaccine. Usually, we focus on partisan differences (i.e. Republicans lagging in vaccination rates) or racial differences (i.e. Black Americans lagging).
One under-discussed difference in vaccination uptake that is particularly troubling is that younger Americans are less likely than older Americans to claim they have or will get vaccinated. This is dangerous because younger Americans seem to be the ones most likely to spread the virus.
Look again at that Quinnipiac poll. Among those adults under the age of 35, 36% say they don’t plan on getting a Covid-19 vaccine. That’s higher than the 27% overall and much higher than the 10% of senior citizens who say they won’t get a shot.
This poll’s result has been repeated over and over again in the polling data. Just 49% of those under the age of 30 in last month’s Kaiser Family Foundation survey told the pollster that they would be getting a vaccine as soon as possible or had already gotten one. That’s below the 61% overall and well below the 81% of senior citizens.
This matches with data from the CDC, which indicates that younger adults have been the least likely to get vaccinated so far. Of course, many states have only recently opened up the eligibility for younger Americans to get vaccinated.
The fact that younger people have been slower on the vaccine uptake is worrisome because they are also the least likely to socially distance themselves. According to an average of March Axios/Ipsos polls, adults under the age of 30 were on average 7 points less likely to say they were socially distancing than adults overall.
This lack of social distancing and lack of vaccine uptake could help to explain why younger people have been the most likely to get infected with the coronavirus recently. Throughout March, 18- to 24-year-olds had the highest number of cases per 100,000 people. The second highest was 25- to 34-year-olds. The initial data we have from April shows the same thing.
When you zone in on Michigan, where cases have been spiraling out of control, a similar pattern emerges. Cases have been highest among those in their 20s. Case rates among those in their teens are higher in Michigan than at any point in the pandemic.
The most obvious problems with younger people getting the coronavirus is two-fold. First, younger people could get very sick, even if they are less likely than older people to get sick. Second, by not socially distancing themselves and not getting the vaccine, younger people can become a vector to spread the virus to other more vulnerable parts of the population.
Another issue with younger people being less likely to get the vaccine is that it’s another group that we’ll need to focus on to get vaccinated.
While much of the attention has been on partisan and racial divides in vaccine uptake, an age divide is something else entirely. The messages that appeal to hesitant young people are unlikely going to be the same ones that appeal to Republicans at large. (Younger voters favored President Joe Biden in overwhelming numbers.)
As Nicholas Florko of STAT pointed out, “In the Covid-19 vaccine push, no one is speaking Gen Z’s language.”
To do so will take time and effort.
If we don’t figure out how to speak their language, this pandemic may be a lot more painful than it needs to be.