A Boomer's Plea: Get Vaccinated, Millennials

Cleveland Francis, Jr., MD


July 26, 2021

As a baby boomer, I cannot help but admire the commitment and idealism of those under 40. We have handed them a world with pollution, global warming, and racial disparities, and yet many of the 135 million members of Gen Y and Gen Z are committed to making this world a better place. They recycle, advocate on behalf of the environment, and march to demand social justice. Yet, a Washington Post-ABC News poll from June 30 showed that more than a third of 18- to 29-year-olds said they will probably or definitely not get a simple injection that will protect them and their community from COVID-19. Why is this?

We must acknowledge that our messaging has not been consistent or clear. In the early stages of both the pandemic and the vaccination effort, we stressed that the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions were the most vulnerable. Young people were told that they had less to fear. Those messages, along with a perceived invincibility, led the young to place a low priority on being vaccinated.

Misinformation on social media, concerns about the impact of the vaccine on fertility, and reports of serious side effects, though extremely rare, all contribute to a reluctance to be vaccinated. Their trusted messenger is the internet and social media, where misinformation abounds.

We must do all we can to counter this way of thinking. Youth alone is not a protector from the virus. While most younger people may not get as sick from COVID-19 as older people, a significant number end up hospitalized and some have long-term effects.

Anyone who contracts COVID-19 can pass it to others who may be more seriously impacted even if they themselves experience nothing worse than a mild cold. The vaccines are safe. Yes, they were developed quickly, unlike the vaccines of the past that saved their grandparents' generation from polio and smallpox, but these mRNA vaccines were built on a foundation of years of painstaking scientific research.

Scientific knowledge has grown exponentially, and this, coupled with improved communication, allows advances to take place at "warp" speed. Gen Y and Gen Z have experienced rapid technological advances all their lives and should be comfortable with quick turnaround on product development. Look at the capabilities of today's mobile phones compared with the flip phones and BlackBerries of a few years ago.

We need to acknowledge that there have been extremely rare incidences of Guillain-Barré syndrome and myocarditis in young people following vaccination, but the rates are far lower than serious side effects from common pain relievers we all take without thinking twice.

Most of us don't routinely see young patients in our clinics unless they have a specific chronic condition or a congenital abnormality, but we have informal interactions with young family members, friends, colleagues, and employees. Let's encourage a conversation about vaccination, ask why they are concerned — address their concerns. Stress the facts about the illness and the safety of the vaccines. Make a special effort to counter the baseless claims of impact on fertility.

Encourage them to be vaccinated to help others. If COVID-19 is allowed to spread, the virus will continue to mutate and become even more deadly. We need to vaccinate 70%-80% of the population for herd immunity, and younger people are critical to help us achieve that goal. This might be the most compelling argument we can make to encourage Millennials to be vaccinated.

We are counting on them to continue to recycle, raise consciousness about climate change, and demand equality and social justice. We should all work to make the world a better place. But getting the vaccine is something they can do to make an immediate difference. It is literally a matter of life and death, and they hold an important key to saving lives now and stopping the virus from mutating into more lethal variants.

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About Dr Cleve Francis
Cleve Francis, MD, is a staff cardiologist with the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute (IHVI) in Northern Virginia. He is former president and founder of Mount Vernon Cardiology Associates, co-chairman of the IHVI Antiracism/Equality Taskforce, diversity advisor of IHVI, and a member of the Inova Inclusion Counsel.

Dr Francis is also a songwriter and performer. He is a former recording artist on the Capitol Nashville Country Music Label (1992-1995), and his music has been featured at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

Connect with him:
Twitter: @muzicdoc2
Facebook: Cleve Francis
Instagram: @muzidoc


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