COVID-19 vaccination campaigns not targeting Generation Z as virus surges among age group

Recent polls show useful facts and information about COVID-19 vaccines aren’t reaching Gen Z, and researchers said that plays into why a growing number of 18 to 24-year-olds say they are more likely to skip the vaccine.

Millions of people talk about the pandemic on Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat, where Gen Z spends a lot of time, but that generation wants more than just world headlines.

"But as far as the vaccine, I haven’t seen anything where they kind of explain what it is, the different types of vaccines because I know there are different types as well," said Amanda Reyes, an 18-year-old economics major at the University of South Florida.

Reyes said she got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. But recent polls show up to a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds would not get the vaccine.

"I think part of the reason is not having the information available to people my age and students as well. If they don’t have the information, then they can’t make educated decisions about whether or not to get the vaccine," said Reyes.

Research has found Generation Z does not consider themselves as high risk, so they would skip the shot. Public health experts said a lack of public messaging targeted toward them contributes to the problem.

USF business entrepreneurship student Reidel Anthony Jr., 19, said easily accessible information on social media would help build his confidence.

"I have not gotten it. I don’t really feel comfortable yet, I’d rather wait until another year or something. It really depends on when my family gets it because my family doesn’t even feel safe getting the vaccine," said Anthony, who added he would likely change his mind if he knew more about the vaccine. "Because instead of asking us if we want to see, I think they should be like ‘Here’s what’s going on,’ and bring it up to light. I really don’t even know much about the vaccine still."

USF College of Public Health researcher Angela Makris works at the Florida Prevention Research Center, and she said some places are stepping in to fill those gaps.

"There’s a lot of universities that are adopting student-led initiatives, a lot of influencers that are leading the way on TikTok and on Instagram," said Makris.

She said there are no federal efforts to develop targeted messages, and it would be slow-moving because of the checks and balances. So Makris said local governments can help speed up the process.

"I think any government department can use some of the staff they have that fall within that age group or get a community outreach and create advisory boards or a focus group," said Makris. "Get people who are 18 to 24 years old to work with them to create the messaging that will be more genuine and also speak their language."

Researchers said the key is to ask what they want to hear to deliver accurate information in a way that’s appealing to Gen Z. Recent CDC data shows younger people are driving the latest surge, so public health experts continue encouraging vaccines.

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