After answering all the media questions about COVID-19 in schools, booster shots and whether or not the fifth wave in B.C. was finally cresting, Health Minister Adrian Dix threw out a surprising fact about vaccinations during the government’s Jan. 11 press conference.
“I think it’s important to recognize this, that those aged 16, those aged 17, those aged 18, 19, 20, 21 are as vaccinated or more vaccinated than the provincial average,” he said. “Our young people lead the way with respect to vaccination.”
The majority of 16 to 19-year-olds don’t have their booster shots yet because it hasn’t yet been six months since their second dose, Dix noted. “Nonetheless young people, especially teenagers, have been real leaders in this vaccination campaign, and we’re very appreciative.”
According to the Health Ministry, there are 323,713 people aged 16 to 21 in B.C. and 97 per cent have had their first dose of the vaccine, while 93 per cent have had both shots.
The Tyee spoke with 11 young people about why they got vaccinated, why their age group is vaxed to the max, and what the province could learn from them about getting more people to follow suit.
Here is what they told us, edited some for clarity.
Felix Houle, 20, Nanaimo
I’m vaccinated because I just want to have the freedom to go out and be able to live my life normally. I got my second shot done in the summer, so I wanted to be able to go everywhere and feel safe. Big portions of my life, you need to be vaccinated. For example, I'm on residence at school, and to live on residence you need to have at least two shots. So if I wasn't vaccinated, I would have nowhere to live right now, pretty much, except for back home, and I'd be stuck doing online school.
I think people my age are doing pretty well at making the most of the situation that we have now, that balance between rules we didn't have before, and the lifestyle that was before. People our age are a little more free.
Janaye Majer, 18, Surrey
I wanted to protect myself and others. I think being vaccinated is one of the ways to stop the spread. And if you look at the statistics now, you see that the people who are vaccinated are less likely to end up in ICU.
I think my age group is so vaccinated because we are open to discussion. We're so alert to what's going on in the world, as compared to the older generation, for example, who are all mainly stuck in their ways or they're stuck in their way of thinking due to things being so different in the past. We are so open to all these changes, and we're open to the science and learning about what's best for us. That's why everybody got vaccinated.
Maybe the government should have somebody of our age range talk about their experiences, and how they felt when they did the whole thing. I think it'd be more reassuring to other people who aren't vaccinated to see, “This person's OK, so I'll be OK.” Rather than just kind of saying, “Do it, you'll be fine.”
Anabella McElroy, 19, Vancouver
I didn't really have to think about getting vaccinated. It was more just an assumption that I would. I think the pandemic has been a source of a lot of anxiety for me. And obviously the vaccine wasn't a miracle cure for that. But it was the biggest thing on the horizon that would help me feel a little less stressed about catching COVID. And also I am lucky that I have free time and have a lot of friends who wanted to be social — and a lot who were quite social, even when I wasn't comfortable with it. So part of the excitement about getting vaccinated was I can return to a little more of that social life that I'd seen other people doing.
We're getting a lot of the messaging from public health and doctors who are tweeting about vaccines or putting information on Instagram. I was reading information about vaccinations, and I think that's probably true for a lot of people my age. We're very online, and so we just were, as a consequence, preparing to get the vaccine for a long time, I guess.
And, like, I guess it’s the younger age of college students, but everyone wants to go to parties. So I'm sure what factored into a lot of people's decision-making was socializing safely.
Hannah McDermott, 17, Vancouver
I’m vaccinated for many reasons. Most importantly, there’s a lot of events that are important in the development of me as a person that are just really significant and that you don’t want to miss. And COVID made us have to miss social things, and certain parts of the curriculum that had to be cut out. I am looking forward to the first year of university experience and graduation. I'm really hoping that I will be able to have those normally.
Also I find there's not as much vaccine hesitancy in my age group and we just trust science. We trust that scientists know a lot better than we do what's going to be good for us.
Alistair Smith, 19, New Westminster
I just felt morally obligated just to do my part to protect the vulnerable, mainly. I think because younger people are just more open minded, like more open to and accepting of new technology. And it is kind of necessary for us just to go to school and everything, like we're doing more activities in our communities.
It just seemed to me just the most obvious thing. We were all anxiously waiting for the vaccine to come out; I immediately got my first dose right when I was eligible for it. I guess it really depends on the person; I don't really think there is, at this point, anything we do to convince the unvaccinated. It's just so late into the pandemic.
Rea Chatterjee, 19, South Surrey/White Rock
I have two immunocompromised family members at home. And I think that vaccinations is one way that we can help mitigate the risks of the virus and also protect ourselves and our communities. It’s following science and the guidelines that have been laid out by our government and also globally.
We tend to be less reactionary than other generations. I think because we've been faced with a lot of change from a young age, and a lot of that change is existential and has become our reality to the point where I think maybe some of us have also been numb to it.
Things like climate change and also social movements like Black Lives Matter and Idle No More facilitate a lot of change in our communities and societies. Because of this we've been forced to adapt, especially with increased accessibility of social media. I think generally our state of mind is more concerned with maintaining our well-being and surviving over personal freedom, compared to other generations who might have that concern.
Also I think it's important to note that a lot of us in the Global North are really privileged as well. I think a lot of us get vaccinated because it's an easy fix for us to be able to meet requirements and have the essential young adult experience and resume our social lives.
I think what the government is pushing for is full vaccination being the end all and be all for ending the pandemic. But it’s important to address all the other aspects of why the crisis became so large, like failing health care and economic systems, vaccine hoarding and western imperialism. Even though I'm sure the government won't address that, I think it needs to address that vaccination isn't the only thing that's going to get us out of it.
It’s also important to have open dialogue with communities and people who are hesitant about the vaccine, especially with marginalized communities who have been at times in history incredibly harmed by the government's medical initiatives, including vaccines. Instead of labelling those people as crazy, othering them and making rules about vaccine mandates, it's important to have health-care professionals from backgrounds that people can find familiarity with and relate to more, just to have dialogue.
Sarah Johnston, 19, Victoria
Getting vaccinated was kind of a no brainer for me. I think my situation might be a bit different because my mom was a recently retired doctor when COVID hit. So she and my father, who is not in any medical field, both volunteered at the vaccination centre in my hometown, Salmon Arm. So I have a lot of trust in the medical system.
I think a lot of those provincial incentives, where you have to be fully vaccinated to go into bars or movie theatres or social places, has a lot to do with why so many young people are vaccinated. But I think there's also, at least for me and quite a few people I know, a sense of social duty, responsibility to help out with herd immunity and not wanting to infect older, more vulnerable people.
Parker Little 17, Victoria
I initially had some apprehension, actually. And the reason why was all of these institutions coming out with vaccine trials were doing it at a breakneck pace. My concern was whether or not these institutions were doing it for monetary gain and fame, or if they were doing it for the betterment of humanity. But as time went on and they came out with all these facts about the vaccines, I thought I may as well give it a shot. Pun intended.
I asked a social studies classroom, one that’s really into all of the implications and social impact of COVID, for their opinion on why so many young people are vaccinated. And one thing that they came up with was peer pressure. Since you have to have your vaccine card here in B.C. to go pretty much anywhere, you also need that to hang out with your friends. You don't have your card, you're not going to be able to hang out with them.
Ria, 16, Sechelt
I decided to get vaccinated because it puts my family less at risk than if I wasn't.
In all honesty, I think so many my age are vaccinated because we kind of don't care. I know I sound weird, but if there's a vaccine and people want us to get vaccinated we'll be like, “OK, sure, let's get vaccinated.” We have so many other things that we could be doing, and we do our research and we see “OK, it's not that bad. We'll just do it.”
What could others learn from my age group? They could probably just see how, even though we are vaccinated, some of us will still get COVID, but the symptoms are much less severe than if they weren't vaccinated. So just seeing the amount of people who are vaccinated and their symptoms if they do get COVID and then comparing it, I feel like that would probably change quite a few opinions.
David He, 18, Burnaby
I think for a lot of young Canadians, we're worried about getting COVID. We have lives ahead of us, we don't want to jeopardize it by hospitalization or possibly even death. And I also wanted to protect my family from it. But I think the most important reason I got vaccinated other than safety is just being able to get some sort of resemblance of pre-2019 life back again. Like being able to meet up with friends, go to restaurants, go to concerts and even travel.
I think for a lot of my age group, we've been born with technology and social media. We've seen in the news a lot of the horror stories for the people who are not vaccinated. And on social media, it's also trendy to get vaccinated because that means you can actually go do the things that you want to do. You can actually post those things on social media as well. And you can actually continue to have a social life. I think that's really important.
I think there's certainly a lot of miscommunication about vaccination among older adults. Younger adults, particularly like myself and my peers, we've been acquainted to using the internet or looking through news on the internet, quite well. In class we've all been taught about fake news, the importance of understanding where the source comes from — those have all been in our education curriculum. So I think that should be probably moved to older adults as well, increasing the need for literacy in regards to the news, because I think the main reason why a lot of older adults might not be vaccinated is because of simply misinformation online.
Madeleine Laidlaw, 19, Vancouver
I got vaccinated, because we're all in this together, and I'd like to start seeing my friends a bit more regularly. I wasn't able to do that when I wasn't vaccinated.
I think young people probably are open more to the science. It's just another way to help our country and our communities as well.
And socializing with their peers is very important to them. Within the younger community there’s a lot of people pressuring each other to get vaccinated. They are bringing up those conversations instead of just saying, “Well, your opinion’s your opinion, and my opinion's my opinion.”
Don't underestimate the power of younger generations.