As COVID-19 vaccine continues to be readily available to Minnesotans age 16 and up, more and more teenagers are getting the shot but still have the lowest vaccination rate of any age group in the state.
Just under 2% of those who have received the vaccine in Minnesota are 16- to 17-year-olds, or nearly 50,000 teens. In Crow Wing County, that number is even lower at about 1.28%, or 342 teens.
In a recent survey of juniors and seniors at Brainerd High School, about 45% of respondents were vaccinated, and the students gave a wide variety of answers leading to their decision.
Of the 163 students who participated, 73 said they had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine as of April 26. The majority of those students said they got it because they didn’t want to get sick themselves or spread the virus to others, or they wanted life to get back to normal as soon as possible. Some had high-risk family members they worried about or parents who were essential workers. Many of these students also said they felt getting the vaccine was common sense and the right thing to do.
“I believe that getting the vaccine is something I can do to better our community as a whole,” senior Nolan Reynolds wrote in an email to the Dispatch. Reynolds received both vaccine doses and was one of two students who agreed to be interviewed about their views on the vaccine.
Reynolds said he already fought off the virus last fall and wasn’t necessarily worried about getting it again but really struggled with being isolated from his family.
“I recognize that the best way to protect others is through getting vaccinated,” he wrote. “And after all, isn't that what life is all about? Caring for your neighbors, and putting their needs before yours?”
Others admitted they got vaccinated just because their parents told them to or because they did not want to wear masks anymore, while a couple said they were looking forward to traveling.
Of the 90 students surveyed who were not vaccinated, 27 of them said they were interested, marking 4 or 5 on an interest-level scale from 1-5. Nine of those students also said they were not on the same page as their parents regarding the vaccine.
The majority of students who had not gotten vaccinated and were not interested in doing so, said they were either worried about long-term side effects, didn’t trust the vaccine with how quickly it was approved or did not feel like they are at risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. Several said they felt like those who are getting it are acting as test subjects for something that has not been thoroughly tested and is not officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA has authorized emergency use for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. This authorization means the agency’s scientific experts determined the known and potential benefits of the vaccine outweigh its known and potential risks.
“Considering my young age and health I would rather take the risk of getting Covid-19 than allowing newly formulated vaccines into my body,” one student wrote on the survey. “I have never had anything against vaccines and I generally urge people to get them when they are necessary but I have chosen to wait on a Covid-19 vaccine until there are many years backing it up.”
Others noted the high survival rate of COVID-19 and compared it to the flu or a cold.
“It came out in like 2 months, people are getting sicker from it than the actual disease, and I’m not gonna conform just cause I’m told to, especially when the disease itself is no more than the flu or common cold,” another student wrote on the survey.
Senior Jay Petrie, another student who agreed to be interviewed, said he understands there could be risks associated with the vaccine, but there are also risks associated with COVID-19.
“I would rather take the risk with the vaccine than take the risk with the virus. So I think that that's how I'm going forward,” Petrie said during a Zoom interview.
When asked where they got their information on the COVID-19 vaccine, students gave various answers. Many said they watched or read the news, a couple citing specific sources like Fox News and The New York Times. Others said their information came from doctors or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while others listed peers and social media platforms — like TikTok — as their sources of information.
“I think misinformation is an issue because people don't actually do research, or they don't do good research,” Petrie said, noting he has gotten his information from friends, family and news articles.
He said platforms like TikTok can be especially dangerous, as people can pretend to be whoever they want — like doctors or nurses — online.
“I feel like people are just making up facts off the top of their head,” he added.
Reynolds said his information has come from government websites like the CDC and scholarly journals like Harvard Health Publishing. He has also had open conversations with his parents on the issue but said he makes a point to not always just take what they say at face value, even though they tend to share similar views.
“I think that a majority of my peers make this mistake; they blindly follow the ideals of their parents, and will even fight tooth and nail to push an agenda that they may not fully comprehend themselves,” Reynolds wrote in his email. “I urge all people, especially youth, to do their own research on topics such as these. This way, we may be a better informed community.”
BHS vaccine survey results
Have you gotten the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes — 44.79%.
No — 55.21%.
Where has your information on the vaccine come from?
News — 35.23%.
Doctors/health officials — 28.41%.
Social media — 18.49%.
Friends and family — 7.58%.
Scholarly articles — 6.44%.
My own research/ideas — 3.41%.
Data is based on a Brainerd Dispatch survey of 163 responding Brainerd High School students. Students may be counted in more than one group for the information statistics.