As delta variant spreads, younger Americans say fear of side effects is keeping them from getting vaccinated

COVID-19 cases are rising in the U.S. as the delta variant spreads fast, but that trend doesn’t appear to be convincing younger people to get their shots.

Some 17.8 million Americans ages 25 to 39 say they are not planning to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the highest share across all age groups, according to surveys conducted from June 23 to July 5 by the U.S. Census Bureau in its Household Pulse Survey.

Over half (53%) of these individuals say they are holding off because of fears about possible side effects from the vaccine, according to the survey.

The seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases was at 29,604 as of July 16, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker, up 109% from from two weeks previous. 

Some infectious disease experts attribute the rise in cases to the delta variant, which unvaccinated individuals are especially vulnerable to, data show.  Health experts are hoping that the risks of contracting it will push unvaccinated people to get their shots, especially younger people.

There’s been an uptick in younger people who’ve been hospitalized relative to older people, in part because older Americans are more likely to have been vaccinated, Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top pandemic adviser, said at a White House briefing Friday.

“Since we have more of a veil of protection among people — because about 85% of people who are elderly, greater than 65 are vaccinated — when you look at the relative number of people who get hospitalized, clearly, we’re seeing younger people, from a relative standpoint, more hospitalized than we were seeing before because of the shift of the veil of protection, which is much more dominant among the elderly,” Fauci said.

Among 25 to 39-year-olds, 3 million of the 17.8 million who don’t plan to get vaccinated said they don’t know if a vaccine will work, and 4.4 million said they don’t believe they need a vaccine. Across all adult age groups, side effect concerns were the top reason for not getting vaccinated, the Census survey showed.

While it’s true that individuals are likely to experience common side effects including fatigue, fever and muscle soreness after getting vaccinated, those symptoms are unlikely to last for more than a couple of days and rarely merit hospitalization, according to the CDC.

Contracting COVID, on the other hand, poses significant long-term side effects that can include neurological damage, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath and joint pain, according to health experts and medical studies.

Other surveys have shown some Americans who were initially hesitant are warming up to the idea of getting vaccinated. A separate survey of U.S. adults age 18 and over published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care think tank, found that about a quarter of the people who said in a poll earlier this year that they would not get vaccinated have since had their shots. 

The pollsters found those people had changed their minds after seeing friends and family members get vaccinated without serious side effects.

Still, another 7.6 million Americans 25 to 39 say they are still taking a “wait and see approach” while some 6.5 million don’t trust COVID-19 vaccines, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data. 

The U.S. is weeks behind President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults receive at least one shot by July 4. As of July 17, some 68.2% of U.S. adults had received one dose while some 59.4% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

States including Ohio, New York and Massachusetts offered special lottery drawings to incentivize people to get vaccinated. But one Boston University study suggests that the Vax-a-Million campaign in Ohio, which gave individuals five chances to win $1 million or college scholarships if they got vaccinated, didn’t directly lead to increased vaccination rates.

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