Can Olivia Rodrigo and a Fauci TikTok Tour encourage Gen Z to get vaccinated? : Pictures

Pop star Olivia Rodrigo makes a brief statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images Hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Pop star Olivia Rodrigo makes a brief statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

On Wednesday, President Biden had lunch with Senate Democrats, invited governors and mayors to a round table on infrastructure, and also hung out with Olivia Rodrigo, an 18-year-old pop star loved by Gen Z.

Rodrigo, who currently has the country’s number one album and whose song “Drivers License” has been a radio magazine for months, has PSA videos with Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci recorded and performed in the White House briefing room promoting coronavirus vaccinations.

Your visit underscores one of the hurdles to vaccinating more Americans right now. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 46 percent of people between 18 and 24 have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. That’s nearly 70 percent of all adults in the United States. Lots of young people just aren’t in a hurry to roll up their sleeves.

That spurs public health officials and the White House to develop new strategies to reach them as the Delta variant spreads. And in some places young people take the lead themselves and try to reach their peers.

At Texas A&M University, James Lifton and Arham Imran came to campus for their first classroom semester last spring. They’d been transfer students and didn’t know too many people. When they were both standing in line for dinner at Panda Express, they started chatting. The couple quickly became friends.

“I’m studying political science,” says Lifton. “He’s a STEM major. And one of the things we love to do is argue about political issues. We were just talking about the vaccine, is it worth it?”

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In Texas, Lifton wanted to get vaccinated right away. He was concerned about passing the virus on to his parents. Imran hesitated, however. He wondered if the shots were developing too quickly. Then when Lifton got the injection, Imran was surprised at how sick it made his friend.

“I had to bring him Gatorade and his lunch, and I really didn’t want to be bedridden for two or three days,” says Imran. “Covid hasn’t really affected a lot of people my age so I didn’t feel the urgency to get it.”

Jordan Tralins, an aspiring junior at Cornell University, has tried to help her generation catch up.

She founded the Covid Campus Coalition, which now consists of nearly 30 campuses, to promote social distancing and the wearing of masks. Recently, the coalition has been committed to promoting vaccines. Tralins says it’s important to meet young people where they are – and let them take the lead in spreading good information about the vaccines to their peers. Tralins says the White House was slow to adopt this approach at the beginning of the rollout.

Jordan Tralins, an aspiring junior at Cornell University, formed the Covid Campus Coalition to reach young people with better information about the pandemic and vaccines. Hide image caption courtesy of Jordan Tralin’s caption

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Courtesy Jordan Tralins

Jordan Tralins, an aspiring junior at Cornell University, formed the Covid Campus Coalition to reach young people with better information about the pandemic and vaccines.

Courtesy Jordan Tralins

“People of my generation don’t spend their free time sifting through scientific literature trying to formulate opinions on scientific topics,” she says. “We really look at what’s on our social media and that affects the way we think.”

While scrolling through Instagram and TikTok, Tralin’s noticed feeds full of misinformation. Some Generation Z TikTok users have huge reach – they are pumping videos to tens of thousands of followers.

One reason that comes up frequently without evidence is that vaccines cause infertility. Again not true. On TikTok, Tralins smashes such myths and explains how the recordings work with funny and to the point videos.

The reach of Tralin’s own account isn’t huge, but the hope is that people will share the videos and infographics on their own accounts when chapters pop up on other campuses so that young people can hear from people they know and trust own communities.

“My generation is not as selfish as we should be,” she says. “I just think that some young people have been misled through this process.”

Tralins says that young people’s enthusiasm for vaccines varies greatly by region. In Cornell, where Tralins goes to school, college has mandated vaccines for the fall and students were quick to line up for injections.

It was much more difficult at other universities, especially in the south, where student bodies are more ideologically divided. Many of the most prolific TikTokers who spread misinformation about the vaccines tout their conservative bonafides and support for former President Trump.

Another hurdle is reaching young people who are not enrolled in college or in rural areas. This is why Tralins says social media can be such a powerful tool.

The White House could catch up. Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci has appeared on TikTok and has appeared for interviews with Generation Z TikTok stars like Mia Finney who have millions of followers. The administration also started a campus vaccine challenge and a student COVID corps.

Thanks for stopping by Olivia and for using your voice to urge young people to get vaccinated. If we all do our part and get the COVID-19 vaccine, we can defeat this virus once and for all. Let us do this.

– President Biden (@POTUS) July 15, 2021

It’s hard work.

A study published this week by the University of California-San Francisco found that about one in four unvaccinated people between the ages of 18 and 25 said they were “probably not” or “definitely not” receiving the vaccine.

In Washington, DC, only 30% of young adults are vaccinated and the gap between affluent and white neighborhoods and working class, black and brown neighborhoods remains large.

“Many of them know family members who died from this virus, but still think they are superhero immune,” says Councilor Christina Henderson. “So we still have a lot to do.”

The District of Columbia recently opened vaccination clinics after graduating from high school, but they weren’t a hit.

Henderson says incentives like gift cards do only so much, but wonders if help with tuition could work. And she also realizes how important it is who delivers the pitch.

“You or I or President Biden are probably not the best messengers for this group of people, so what are the other credible messengers we get out there that can have real conversations with young people?”

In Louisiana, state health official Joseph Kanter says he is concerned about the reluctance of young people. This is one factor holding back the state’s low vaccination rate. In focus groups, however, Kanter heard something that gave him hope.

“The answer from people who haven’t been vaccinated is usually, yes, I’ll probably get vaccinated at some point, I’m just not there yet.”

That’s why James Lifton is still working on his friend Arham Imran.

“My best argument is not just to do it for yourself, but for the people around you,” says Lifton. “Because I think we can all agree that we want to go back to where we can shake hands with people, hug our family and hang out with our friends.”

Imran weighs the decision carefully. He could get the chance before the fall semester starts. At the moment he is still on the fence.

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