The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 years and older in May. With younger populations now eligible for the vaccine, counties are encouraging youth to get vaccinated.
The Cook County, Ill. Department of Health hosted “Youth Day” to educate, inform and encourage young people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The department had an existing community vaccine site at a local high school and when it closed at the end of June, staff decided to use the site for the event to encourage young adult populations to get vaccinated, Director of Community Mobilization Xandria Hair said. The department works with community-based organizations at bi-weekly stakeholder meetings to discuss vaccines in the community, Hair said.
“We listened to the organizations, and they thought this would be instrumental in helping to not only get residents and surrounding communities vaccinated, but also just create a space in which we could share information,” she said.
Hair said they planned the event relatively quickly to ensure vaccine uptake in the young adult and youth populations would increase. The event featured live music, vendors from community organizations, giveaways, food and medical staff on site to answer questions regarding the vaccine.
“The youth that came out did get vaccinated, but they had questions and we welcomed questions,” she said.
Giveaways included tickets to the Brookfield Zoo and to Six Flags Great America. During the event, 73 attendees received a vaccine.
“This event really looked like a community that pulled together to work to get people vaccinated,” Hair said.
The Cook County Department of Health is utilizing other channels to encourage youth to get vaccinated including a video series called “My Shot, My Story” and a Facebook Live video series of “Ask the Doctor” sessions in multiple languages where the county partners with medical staff to answer questions about the vaccine.
New Hanover County, N.C., Public Health held a similar event dubbed the “Vax and Snax Block Party” offering free vaccines, food trucks and music with medical experts on-site to answer vaccine questions.
The event was an opportunity to engage the younger population, as well as their parents, and marginalized populations that are experiencing lower rates of vaccinations, Public Health Director David Howard said. The county administered 68 vaccinations during the event.
“It’s a community engagement and education event as much as getting vaccines into arms, so we’re trying to do both at the same time,” he said.
Preparedness Coordinator Diana Vetter Craft said the block party featured a DJ who has a following with minority youth in the county.
“There are so many different avenues that our county has been able to play with in educating, but also making sure that people get the opportunity to get vaccinated,” she said.
When the FDA initially approved the Pfizer vaccine for those 12 and older, Howard said the county had a steady number of parents bringing in their children to receive a vaccine, but the number has declined, and the department is looking to increase vaccine uptake.
“We did see a pretty good diverse mix of young people and we saw different demographics, so we were pleased with that,” he said of the block party.
Meanwhile in Polk County, Iowa, county supervisors there approved vaccine incentive campaigns, specifically targeting youth, to increase vaccination rates.
Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly said one campaign awards a nonprofit or school-affiliated group with $100 for any youth between the ages of 12 to 18 who receives a vaccine. Nonprofits will also receive $50 for every new individual who gets vaccinated at the health department above the age of 18. Funds will be awarded through Sept. 3 to encourage school-aged youth to get vaccinated before the start of the school year.
Polk County is using funds from the American Rescue Plan for the incentives, according to Connolly.
“We’re trying everything we can. We’re really in a race against time with the new variant of COVID-19,” she said.
While vaccinations are on the rise across the country for those between the ages of 12 and 17, Polk County Public Health Communications Officer Nola Aigner Davis said they are not at the levels the county would like to see.
“We know that kids are going to go back to school and they’re going to be around their friends, playing sports, involved in activities and anytime you bring a close-knit number of people together, that’s when we see disease outbreak spread,” she said.
Polk County is holding a lottery every other week targeting the youth population and drawing names for a $5,000 scholarship for youth under the age of 18 who are vaccinated. The county also holds a drawing every other week for $50,000 and draws names for 10 winners of $1,000 each week for anyone who has been vaccinated.
“I think as elected leaders, we need to keep pushing out the importance of vaccinations and don’t let up until we get to the point where we get that herd immunity for our community to really feel safe,” Connolly said.