Young adults falling behind getting COVID-19 shots

Eastern Ontario health officials say people 18 to 29-years-old are falling behind other demographics when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and some experts say it might be due to feelings of "invincibility."

Health units urge young adults to book vaccinations

A pedestrian wearing a mask walks past a neon sign of a Bank Street cannabis store in Ottawa on July 3, 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health units say young adults are falling behind getting their vaccines. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Eastern Ontario health officials say young adults are falling behind other demographics when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and some experts say it might be due to feelings of "invincibility."

"We are urging people in that age group to just get vaccinated," said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit during a briefing Monday.

The unit reported to date, nearly 100 per cent of people in the region aged 60 and older had received their first dose, but those between 18 and 29 were only at 54 per cent. 

Less than 30 per cent of that age group have received their second dose. 

A chart from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit showing the vaccination rate in the region by age. (Eastern Ontario Health Unit)

It's a concern echoed by both Ottawa Public Health and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit  — both have reported that people in their 20s and 30s are falling behind with vaccinations.

In a video posted to the public health unit's YouTube page last month, Dr. Robert Cushman with Renfrew County told the group to "roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated."

'A tricky age group'

"This is a tricky age group, especially among males with respect to health behaviour in general, if we think about sexually transmitted infections, if we think about other kinds of preventative health," said Colin Furness, infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

Not everyone in the age group is like this, Furness said, but part of the issue is "that feeling ... of invincibility when you're young and healthy" even though young adults were the driver of COVID-19 cases last summer.

"You got a perfect storm of people who are not paying as much attention as they ought to [to] their health, who are engaged in high risk, or some of their peers are engaged in high-risk work and they're a very, very, very social group," Furness said.

The problem, he said, is when those in that age group come into contact with vulnerable people.

So what's the solution?

Furness said good public health messaging is always key, but it's more important to find one that resonates.

"Role models are very useful at selling running shoes and selling restaurants and selling things. Why not sell vaccinations? So I think we could do a better job there," he said.

Furness also cautioned that some young adults may be hearing COVID-19 vaccine information from unreliable sources, which could contribute to hesitation.

"There's a big difference between authoritative information that is science based ... and what you get on social media," he said.

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