When will college aged young adults get the vaccine?

Written By Nardos Haile and Jake Dabkowski

Last week, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would have enough vaccine doses for adults by the end of May, with every eligible adult citizen vaccinated by July 4. But there was no definitive timeframe when college-aged young adults will become a priority recipient for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Will everyone be vaccinated by July? I think that’s possible, sure,” Edward Meena, a political science professor, said. “In Pennsylvania, they’re vaccinating 50,000 people a day. It took a while to get up and running, but now it’s going… and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one shot, so that will speed it up.”

So far, Pennsylvania has only started offering vaccines to group 1A, which includes people over 65 years old, healthcare workers, and people with certain pre-existing conditions. Recently, school teachers were also made eligible to get vaccinated in order to reopen schools. However, this group excludes most younger people.

“I work 30 hours a week, and I literally get two days off. The idea of being exposed to the public and coming back and then going to classes, I have to really make sure I’m in touch with my health,” said Nathan Kelly, a junior theatre arts major at Point Park, who also works part-time at the Downtown Chipotle.

In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that one in four young workers had a job in the leisure and hospitality sector, meaning thousands of young adults work in food service, transportation, theme parks, etc. and another one out of five were in the retail sector.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) COVID-19 vaccine rollout recommendations, it places most of these young workers and young people in the second phase of the priority list.

Dr. Laura Frost, a biology professor at Point Park, said that young adults aren’t a priority to be vaccinated because they haven’t had very severe effects from the virus since “[they] are very frequently asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.”

This past December, Kelly himself tested positive for COVID-19 and ended up with very mild symptoms.

“I had COVID-19 in December when I was at home working. I would literally go to work then home, I literally went nowhere else, and if I did, I put a mask on,” Kelly said. “So I am assuming I got it from somebody in the public, and it was very life-changing. I did not really have a bad case, but I felt bad because my mom and step-brother had to live in the basement.”

Kelly’s COVID-19 experience is very similar to many other young adults across the country. Even Dr. Frost said that a similar situation happened in her own household.

“I have a 20-year-old son who, after Christmas in January, was helping his grandmother who has preexisting conditions move some stuff, move boxes like decorations to her attic, and she ended up getting sick,” Dr. Frost said.

Studies like the one completed by the Bruno Kessler Foundation and Lombardy COVID-19 Task Force in Italy stated that over 80% of young adults show no symptoms following infection. But complications arise when these same infected young adults transmit the virus to other people, especially older people with pre-existing conditions.

“I’ve talked to a couple of other physicians about this vaccine rollout, and it seems to me there are two schools of thought. The first school of thought is that young adults are mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic, therefore can wait for the vaccine,” Dr. Frost said.

Dr. Frost said she talked with her own physician, who suggested that young adults should have been vaccinated first “because you’re not gonna stop them from partying. So if you vaccinate them all, get that group out of the way first, then that’s going to reduce their ability to transmit otherwise healthier compromised people.”

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the production of the vaccines has sped up within the last several months, but distributing those vaccines has been difficult in Pennsylvania due to disorganized distribution to the counties.

“PA’s rollout has just been botched. It’s been a nightmare, and it didn’t have to be,” Dr. Frost said.

Food service workers like Kelly will be waiting alongside more of his young adult peers for PA to start vaccinating the phase 1B and 1C groups.

Public health officials, most notably, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he estimated that most Americans won’t be vaccinated until the middle or late summer. But another possible avenue for young adults, who aren’t a priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, would be leftover vaccines.

“Rather than chuck [leftover vaccines] in the trash, yeah, I think it absolutely a better idea to use them even if the people who are recipients aren’t technically in Group 1A. Give it to young people. Give it to anybody, don’t waste the vaccine,” Dr. Frost said.

Some young people though, primarily those who work in health care, have been able to get vaccinated.

“It was really easy… you input basic information and sign up for a date and time, and you just show up,” said Angela Le, a student at the University of Pittsburgh who qualified under the Phase 1A guidelines. “Then they send you to someone to give you the shot, and after you sit for 15 minutes, you can leave.”

“I went to Heinz Field at the time I was scheduled, and there was no line,” Zach Strennen, a Duquesne student who qualified under the Phase 1A guidelines, said. “At each part of the sign-in process, I did not have to wait, and everyone was pretty helpful. I got the shot in my left arm and had to wait 30 minutes before I could leave.”

While Biden hopes to have all adults vaccinated by July, many Americans are planning on not getting the vaccine due to concerns over potential side effects. A recent PBS NewsHour poll found that 30% of Americans say that they will not be getting the vaccine. Many people who have already gotten the vaccine have expressed that these side effects are minuscule in comparison to the actual virus.

“I’m getting my second shot tomorrow, and I have no hesitation to get it,” Meena said. “Why do people fight science? It’s unbelievable.”

“My arm was fairly sore the following day, but other than that, I was fine to do anything. After two days, I was no longer sore,” Strennen said.

“I got feverish after the first dose, and my arm was very sore. I was tired, and it took a whole weekend to recover. My second dose was not that bad,” Le said.

The federal government is unable to require that people get vaccinated, which could potentially stall President Biden’s plans.

“There is no national mandate that you have to get vaccinated. It differs from state to state, and right now, it’s voluntary,” Meena said. “Now, you may have an employer say to all employees you have to have your vaccination, and that could lead to an interesting court case.”

Despite all this, the Biden administration remains positive that they will meet their vaccination goals.

“Biden wants everyone vaccinated by July 4th, which is sort of poetic,” Meena said.