The vaccine procrastinators: Why some 20- to 29-year-olds aren't in a rush to get the jab

Albertans in their 20s are the age range least likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — raising unique challenges for those trying to combat vaccine hesitancy.

Experts look at ways to combat vaccine hesitancy within the age group

Alberta's COVID cases may be on the rise, but vaccine rates are only chugging along — especially among those in their 20s (Alberta Health Services)

Ashley Giesbrecht says she'll likely only get the COVID-19 vaccine if she's forced to for travel. Luke Hodgson is waiting for a consensus on which vaccine is best. And Josie Bajara knows she needs to get it so she doesn't spread the virus, but hasn't got around to it — yet.

All three have one thing in common. They're all Albertans in their 20s, the age range that has far more cases than any other as the province's COVID-19 case counts surge once again. And yet that age range is least likely to have the jab — for reasons that might come as a surprise, raising unique challenges for those trying to combat vaccine hesitancy.

Unlike some older folks who haven't yet been vaccinated, many of these "Zennials" or "Zillenials"— as those on the cusp of the Millennial and Generation Z generations have dubbed themselves — say it's not that they're anti-vaxxers. They're not afraid of some huge government conspiracy. They're not necessarily terrified of getting the shot.

They're just, you know, taking their time. Got other things to do. Not sure why it matters. Or, OK, maybe procrastinating just a tad.

Overall, 58.2 per cent of Albertans have been fully vaccinated. That soars to 73 per cent for those in their 50s, 84 per cent for those in their 60s and a whopping 90 per cent for those 90 or older.

But only 53 per cent of the Zennials have been fully vaccinated and 64 per cent have received at least one dose, according to Alberta Health. In some regions that number drops even lower, like in Taber where just 29 per cent of those 20-39 have received at least one shot. 

When CBC Calgary reached out via a totally unscientific and informal poll on Instagram to ask why, the answers ranged from wanting more research on the vaccine to not feeling like they're at risk from COVID-19.

'I'm, like, a pretty healthy person'

Giesbrecht, a 26-year-old living in the southern Alberta town of Okotoks, said she hasn't yet received a first dose and is waiting on whether the decision will impact her day-to-day life.

"They're saying now that you need vaccines to travel. But I personally don't think that's going to, like, stay in effect so I didn't want to rush to get it and then say in like a year you don't need it to travel," she said.

She comments that she doesn't want to "regret" getting the vaccine.

"If we do need it still and like, say, a year or two to travel, then I would consider it," she said.

"Like I'm not an anti-vaxxer in any way [but] I'm, like, a pretty healthy person and I have a pretty good immune system."

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Luke Hodgson, a 24-year-old from Calgary who is living in Kelowna, B.C., says he's hoping for more clarity on which vaccine will be recognized the most globally.

"I just kind of want to wait and see what gets set in stone the most down the road here," he said.

Hodgson added he's had the summer off work since vaccinations were rolled out, so hasn't felt pressure to rush to get the vaccine.

However, his decision has had mixed reviews from family members.

"There is definitely still a push coming from them to get vaccinated as soon as possible," he said, adding that most of his family is vaccinated against COVID-19.

And as for his circle of friends, many are feeling the same way as him.

"People are just waiting to see like where this all is in like the next year or two and what the best option is a little bit more down the road instead of just trying to rush to the quickest solution," he said.

Josie Bajara, a 26-year-old in Calgary, has also held back on getting the jab — but says she understands its importance.

"So like just in case I got it and I was around some people with weaker immune systems and stuff, if they weren't vaccinated or whatever the case was, I wouldn't want to be responsible for getting someone, like, deathly sick or something," she said.

However at the same time, Bajara's also worried about the aftermath the vaccine could have on her own body.

"I know I should get it done and I want to get it done. But also I know, for instance, like the second dose, everyone I've talked to has gotten super ill," she said.

"Maybe at the back of my head I'm waiting to see if anything else happens after, like eight months or so of people getting vaccinated."

Experts combat vaccine hesitancy

Experts are aware of the problem with vaccine hesitancy among those in their 20s, and are already putting plans in action.

19 to Zero, a coalition of experts dedicated to building vaccine trust, have started using social media marketing campaigns to combat misinformation.

Some of their campaigns, like Double Down On Your Defence which addresses those who have only received one dose of the vaccine, was seen marketed at the Calgary Stampede this year.

The coalition 19 to Zero has been putting out social media ad campaigns about the importance of being double vaccinated against COVID-19. (19 to Zero/Facebook)

Another collaboration, This is Our Shot, is a rewards program — which Theresa Tang, one of the founders of 19 to Zero, says may provide some cushion for those that can't find a reason to get their vaccine.

"We actually have incentives rolling out across the country right now to really encourage uptake. And a lot of them, I think, would make a bigger difference to the kind of younger generation."

The group is also bringing a mobile vaccine bus to campuses this fall, to make getting vaccinated easier for students. 

And for those who question the research around the shot, some universities will be holding a town hall with younger physicians and medical residents that can provide answers and educational documents to those who attend. 

Vaccine passports, mandates

Dr. Jia Hu, a Calgary public health physician and another co-founder 19 to Zero, says vaccine mandates or passports may be the answer to the problem.

"I think one of the big drivers of whether or not people get vaccinated or not is just how seriously they think it affects them. And the younger you are, like, you know, you do have less severe outcomes and you're less likely to get it."

Hu points to places like Australia that initially saw a low vaccine uptake, since they hadn't had a lot of cases of COVID-19. 


"I think there's a lot of talk about [vaccines and] people's right to privacy and liberty, like, I get that. But also like what about people's right not to die. I think that may outweigh some of those things."

He says not only is the surging delta variant impacting younger people too, but that restrictions in some regions are already starting to come back as provinces navigate against the fourth wave.

"If we ever want to come out and be a society that doesn't have COVID-19 affecting their lives like left, right and centre than we probably do need, like close to everybody getting the vaccine as soon as possible."

The latest COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates in both Canada and around the globe:


Natalie Valleau is a journalist with CBC News. She grew up in Okotoks, Alta., and completed her undergrad at Mount Royal University and Masters of Journalism and Communications at Western University.