Five ways you can help college-age students become #VaccineConfident
Haley Fribance is a final-year PharmD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.
Although the return of “normal” college life relies on COVID-19 vaccination, college-age students are less likely than other age groups to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. In a recent survey (the VeryWell Sentiment Tracker), 47% of adults under age 30 said they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 17% of adults over 50.1
Respondents' reasons included the novelty of COVID-19 vaccines and concerns about their efficacy and adverse effects. Unique to this demographic is a nonthreatening view of the virus stemming from the usually mild symptoms of COVID-19 infection among college students. This perspective could result in lower vaccination levels among college-age students despite the improving availability of the vaccine.
Significance of COVID-19 vaccination among college-age students
COVID-19 vaccination for all age groups is crucial to protect vulnerable populations at an increased risk of severe disease, to slow the spread of COVID-19, and to reach herd immunity. Increasing vaccination rates among college-age students is a critical component to ending the pandemic because transmission rates are higher among this demographic due to their active lifestyles and perceptions of low risk from the virus.2 Despite virtual learning, college campuses are still densely populated with students living in dorms or off campus with roommates.
A study looking at transmission dynamics by age groups in hot-spot counties found that the highest percentage of SARS-CoV-2 positivity was among persons ages 18 to 24.3 This number may be underestimated, as asymptomatic people are less likely to get tested and therefore are not included in these studies.
Five ways to help
Here are five ways you can help increase vaccination rates among college-age students in your role as a student pharmacist:
1. Know the elements of effective vaccine conversation.
- Start conversations by being empathetic and acknowledging how stressful this pandemic has been for everyone. Because of the pandemic, many young adults have missed out on milestone events, such as graduations, weddings, and typical college experiences. Draw the connection between receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and returning life to normal. Address concerns or questions without judgment and be clear in your recommendation to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
- Be proactive when discussing adverse effects, as people often mistake adverse effects for COVID-19 infection. Emphasize that these vaccines are reactogenic and are likely to cause adverse effects but that this response indicates a robust immune system. End the conversation by expressing your willingness to continue the discussion in the future and answer any further questions.4 Remember, asking questions does not mean a person is antivaccine. Listen to understand young adults' perspective, and provide available, evidence-based information in an easy-to-understand, nonthreatening manner.
2. Share your experiences.
- Vaccine confidence begins with health care professionals. People are more likely to trust the COVID-19 vaccines if they see health care professionals getting a vaccine. Sharing your experience and personal reasons for getting vaccinated can help persuade others to make the same decision. For example, you can describe the logistics of receiving a dose at a given clinic or post a picture of yourself after you get your vaccine. If you include your vaccination card on social media, please ensure the lot number and your date of birth are not readable. The idea is to be visible and proud about your choice to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
3. Positively leverage social media.
- Health care professionals and scientists use many social networking platforms to share accurate, up-to-date information about the pandemic, specifically the COVID-19 vaccines. About 88% of individuals ages 18 to 29 use social media for an average of 3 hours each day.5 Social media is a main source of news for most college students, so use it often to promote vaccine confidence to this age group.
- Sharing vaccine information from credible sources through social media can help ease concerns and reinforce the importance of taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Know the source and credibility of information you may be sharing. CDC's website has a Social Media Toolkit with sample messages for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
4. Promote key facts about the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Social media is a great resource for spreading information to younger generations, but without content regulation, it's also a large source of COVID-19 misinformation. Many social media companies have tried to deter misinformation by linking in-app COVID-19 information centers and blocking posts with false vaccine claims, but these methods are not infallible.
- One way to address common misconceptions and conflicting information that college students are exposed to is to promote key facts about the COVID-19 vaccine. Let college students know the vaccine will not give them the virus and that they can still benefit from the vaccine even if they have already experienced COVID-19.
5. Stress the urgency of getting vaccinated.
- The willingness to accept a vaccine falls on a continuum between refusal and active demand. Because college-age students often feel safer from the virus than other age groups and are hesitant to get the vaccine, they typically fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum, which is considered passive acceptance. Passive acceptance means they may not be against getting the vaccine but are hesitant to schedule an appointment.
- Remind college students that the vaccine is the quickest path back to normalcy. Even if they aren’t worried about contracting COVID-19 themselves, many college students would be willing to become vaccinated to remove social distancing rules and mask mandates and to help protect others.
Let’s all work together to help make college-age students #VaccineConfident!
1. Verywell Health. Why young adults say they won't get a Covid-19 vaccine. March 5, 2021. www.verywellhealth.com/covid-vaccine-sentiment-tracker-young-rejectors-5113077. Accessed April 12, 2021.
2. Czeisler MÉ, Tynan MA, Howard ME, et al. Public attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs related to COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, nonessential business closures, and public health guidance — United States, New York City, and Los Angeles, May 5–12, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:751–58. doi: dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6924e1.
3. Oster AM, Caruso E, DeVies J, Hartnett KP, Boehmer TK. Transmission dynamics by age group in COVID-19 hotspot counties — United States, April–September 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(41):1494–96. doi: dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6941e1.
4. CDC. Building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. Reviewed April 5, 2021. www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/vaccinate-with-confidence.html. Accessed April 12, 2021.
5. Hruska J, Maresova P. Use of social media platforms among adults in the United States—behavior on social media. Societies. 2020;10(1):27. doi: 10.3390/soc10010027.