Vaccination rate lags among NM's young adults - Albuquerque Journal

Vaccination rate lags among NM’s young adults

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s robust vaccination rate – one of the strongest in the country – has a weak spot.

Young adults are far less likely than older New Mexicans to complete their vaccine series, a persistent challenge as the state tries to blunt another surge in COVID-19 infections.

Just 45.1% of 18- to 24-year-olds in the state are fully vaccinated against the disease, trailing the adult population as a whole by more than 20 points, according to data released by the state Department of Health.

New Mexico’s young adults also lag behind the national average of 48.3% for their age group.

Greg Romero, president of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico, said he got the shot as soon as he was eligible this year. But some of his peers, he said, have put it off, planning to get the vaccine eventually but not motivated to act quickly.

“They just don’t see an urgent need at this moment to get it,” Romero said, “even though it is urgent.”

A scientific survey by the University of New Mexico Center for Social Policy found that younger adults – 18 to 29 years old – are less likely to say they know how to get the vaccine in their community.

Adults in their 20s or younger also expressed concern about rare blood clots – a phenomenon that briefly paused distribution of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine this year – and they are more likely than older residents to worry about a potential impact on their ability to have children, the survey said.

There’s no evidence the COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility, according to the state Department of Health and U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention. Federal scientific advisers also determined the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson shot outweigh the risks and that anyone concerned about side effects may opt instead for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

But some young adults aren’t convinced.

In a Journal interview, Rose, a 23-year-old woman from Silver City, said she wants more information before deciding whether to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Blood clots and fertility, she said, have been topics of discussion among her friends and others her age.

“I’m not against getting it in the future,” Rose said Friday, “but I think there needs to be more research, and they need to be more open about side effects.”

Rose said she isn’t an “anti-vaxxer” and has received other vaccines. But she said she wants to make her own decision about the COVID-19 vaccine, not face a mandate.

Rose works in the dental field, and her employer hasn’t required her to get a vaccine.

‘Fake stuff on the internet’

Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, the state’s largest health system, said it’s critical for young adults to get vaccinated.

They are more likely, he said, to be working multiple jobs, going to school and coming into contact with broader groups of people. Vaccination, then, is a way for young adults to protect the community around them, Mitchell said, not just themselves.

But young New Mexicans, he said, also face risks to their own health. On a given day, he said, five to 10 people in their 20s or younger are hospitalized with the disease.

“Young people get really sick from COVID,” Mitchell said, “and can die from COVID.”

Fears about fertility, he said, simply aren’t justified.

In a statement last month, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other associations of physicians strongly encouraged pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19, explaining that the vaccines “have no impact on fertility.”

The fertility concern, Mitchell said, “has been completely debunked. There is absolutely, scientifically no impact on fertility. That was not real. That was fake stuff on the internet.”

18-24 cohort trails others

Adults 65 and older are the most likely to get the vaccine in New Mexico. An estimated 77.1% of adults that age have completed their vaccine series, 32 points higher than people 18 to 24 years old.

Vaccine rates tend to grow with age, with one exception.

UNM students returned to the main campus Monday morning at full capacity. However, all students will have to show proof of vaccination by September.
(Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal.)

Teenagers who are 16 or 17 years old have a slightly higher vaccination rate than their older peers. An estimated 49.7% of people ages 16 and 17 are fully vaccinated, almost 5 percentage points higher than adults 18 to 24.

Broadly speaking, New Mexico’s vaccination rates – except for the 18- to 24-year-old cohort – outpace those of the nation as a whole.

New Mexico ranks No. 5 among states for vaccine doses administered per person among adults, according to CDC data.

The statewide vaccination rate is 68.1% for residents 18 and older, or 4 points higher than the nation as a whole.

Older adults were among the first allowed to get the vaccine under New Mexico’s phased-in plan for vaccine distribution.

Vaccine hesitancy

The UNM Center for Social Policy this year surveyed more than 2,000 adults in New Mexico to help gauge attitudes toward vaccination.

Just 48% of 18- to 29-year-old New Mexicans said they knew how to get the vaccine in their community, lower than other age groups. They were also more likely to have had arguments with family and close friends about the vaccine and had greater concerns about fertility.

“The survey finds that vaccination hesitancy among this group is driven by a combination of ideological and information barriers,” the UNM report said. “Targeted outreach to this specific sub-group of the larger population will be needed given their higher rates of hesitancy.”

The research said cash incentives are more likely to entice younger adults than other age groups.

Their most trusted messengers for vaccine information were their doctors, close friends and family who have been vaccinated, and civil rights groups from their community, according to the UNM report.

Messages that appeared to resonate with young people included assurances that their vaccine decision would remain private; that nurses, doctors and other providers agree the vaccine is safe and effective; and that vaccination would allow them to visit older loved ones who are more vulnerable.

The report was authored by Gabriel Sanchez, director of the UNM Center for Social Policy, and Melanie Sayuri Dominguez, Betzaira Mayorga-Calleros and Shannon Sanchez-Youngman, all of UNM.

David Morgan, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, said New Mexico’s $100 vaccine incentive – a program that ended in August – appears to have succeeded in helping boost vaccinations among younger adults.

“Vaccination will remain key as they’re the ones most likely to move independently in public unmasked and unvaccinated,” Morgan said in a written statement. “Being young is not the same as being immortal, and with hospitals nationwide seeing more unvaccinated young people in their intensive care wards, that should be a sign that vaccination, distancing and masking is as much a safe bet for their long-term health as it is for everyone else.”

Mitchell, the Presbyterian physician, said vaccination is the only way out of the pandemic. He encouraged young adults – or anyone else – to talk to their physician or a health care provider.

“You have to consider which source is right for the question you’re asking,” Mitchell said. “When it’s health care, it’s going to be your health care provider.”

For Romero, who’s 21 and studying liberal arts at UNM, he said he was motivated by a desire to visit friends and relatives – especially older family members – without fear of spreading the disease.

“I didn’t want to put them at risk,” he said.

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