vaccine sign

Siri Hedreen / The Outlook

As of April 5, over half of high-schoolers — those 16 and older — are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Alabama. Their willingness to get vaccinated is a different matter.   

A recent Quinnipiac poll reports young adults ages 18-34 are the most likely to say they don't plan on getting vaccinated, at 36% of the age group, compared to 27% of American adults overall. While 16- to 18-year-olds were not polled, age and vaccine acceptance were positively correlated in all other age groups.

Based on the conversations she's had with her students, Benjamin Russell health science teacher Molly Davenport said there hasn't been any one prevailing stance.

"It's pretty much fifty-fifty," she said. "And when you talk to a class about it, half of them are like 'Yeah, for sure, I'll get it' and half of them are like 'psssht, no.'"

BRHS senior Kaitlyn Riggins gave the same exact assessment.

"I feel like it's probably fifty-fifty because a lot of us, being young, are influenced by social media," Riggins said.

Some of that may be positive peer influence, Riggins said, like seeing ones friends post pictures with their vaccine cards. Other times it's misinformation circulating on Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook.

"You can say anything and some people really will believe it," she said.

Jessica Dean, however, who also teaches health science with Davenport, said most of her students are already set in their opinions depending on what their family thinks.

"It's a direct reflection of their parents most of the time," Dean said. "And a lot of students are just concerned about, or their parents are concerned about, the long-term side effects. So that is some of their hesitation."

Davenport's assessment was similar.

"Whatever they hear at home is usually what they're going to continue to think," she said, adding she understands some of their hesitation, especially around infertility. "I know for me, I'm 30 years old; I'm done having children. I don't think it's going to affect me long term as much as it might a 16-year-old. I don't have as much to worry about necessarily."

Both Davenport and Dean said they'd received their COVID-19 shots, which have been available to teachers in Tallapoosa County since January. They only knew of a handful of high school students, however, who have been vaccinated so far. Two of them were required to do so as pharmacy employees.

Riggins, who spends a lot of time in a healthcare setting shadowing a doctor in Eclectic, said she was proud to be one of the first of her friends to get vaccinated.

"I was glad to be a part of history," she said.

For Riggins, the decision was a no-brainer. Riggins has asthma and her father has congestive heart failure. Her aunt passed away from congestive heart failure in 2017.

"If I were to catch COVID-19 I don't know how I'd react," she said. "If (my father) were to catch it I don't know how he'd react."

Riggins is also an aspiring doctor. This year, she got accepted into University of South Alabama's College of Medicine, where she plans on majoring in biomedical sciences. Less than 10% of applicants are accepted into the program as an undergraduate.

In other words, Riggins has read the CDC COVID-19 vaccine guidance.

Unlike Dean and Davenport, however, Riggins is optimistic young people can be swayed.

"I do feel like once people see 'my friend got it' or 'my mom got it, and she did fine,' they'll start to be more receptive and they'll start to look into it more," she said. "They'll probably feel like OK, if they're encouraging me to do it, it probably can't do me any harm."