Millennials, COVID-19, and YOLO

May 6, 2021

By Sandra Millon Underwood
RN, PhD, FAAN
Professor, UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing

You only live once (YOLO) is even more important in the wake of COVID-19. These days, in the wake of COVID-19, one of the best ways to help ensure longevity, is to get vaccinated. And, while some Millennials appear to be hesitant about getting vaccinated, others are quick to take advantage of the shots, to help make sure they are around to live their best lives!

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine predicts that vaccine uptake could drop to as low as 75 percent among younger age groups in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. That confirms with what polls have shown during the pandemic: “Millennial and Gen Z young adults are more hesitant about getting vaccinated than their elders.’’

While COVID-19 fatigue has taken its toll on most of us, the COVID-19 lock downs have hit young adults even harder. Data reveal that during the pandemic young adults were more likely to lose their jobs or be furloughed. Many young adults have suffered from the mental health impact of having to put their lives on hold.

Given all that has been reported about the pandemic and the reported effectiveness and safety of available COVID-19 vaccines, it seems surprising that young adults are more likely than older adults to minimize the seriousness of the virus and more hesitant about taking the vaccines. Young adults typically do not worry about transmitting or getting COVID-19. Many describe seeing friends “shake off ” the virus or report recovering from what they describe as “mild COVID-19 symptoms”.

While less likely to be hospitalized due to the COVID-19 virus, young adults are more likely than older adults to transmit the virus; therefore, messages that communicate the importance of masking, social distancing, avoiding crowds and vaccination are especially crucial to convey among millennials.

Barbara Minor, a nurse who had COVID-19, is not shy about advising millennials to get the vaccine. She readily shared her personal experience with the virus.

“I’m a nurse, but initially I wasn’t going to get the vaccine. Then I got COVID. I was first diagnosed on December 5, 2020. At first, it felt like a sinus infection— everything on my right side hurt—my teeth, eyes, and ears. I got tested at my job and the initial test came back negative. I took it again and it was positive. It felt like I had a bad case of the flu, and I was off work for two weeks. Then it got worse—I could not breathe. I was short of breath just walking around like I normally do. I was sent to the emergency room and was told that my condition had gone from the infection stage to the inflammation stage. My heart rate and blood pressure were extremely high, so they would not let me leave the hospital. The medical staff thought I had a heart attack. My heart was enlarged. My lungs were scarred, full of fluid, and infected. My condition was potentially fatal. I was in the hospital for three and one-half days. I was off work for two and a half months. I just recently returned to work. I am better now and on March 29th I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I realize there’s a stigma attached to the vaccine— with folks thinking they are experimenting with Black people. The reality is that COVID-19 is affecting Black people more than anyone, so we should be running to get vaccinated. A lot of people are saying they are not going to take the vaccine. I was one of them. Since then, I’ve done my research and now I’m encouraging everyone to get tested and get vaccinated,” said Minor. Millennials have expressed multiple reasons for the doubt and hesitancy about COVID-19, the recommended precautions, and the COVID-19 vaccines. Included among the reasons for doubt and delay in getting vaccinated are what they “have heard or read about, and unethical medical experiments that took place with African Americans”, “ fear of the unknown”, and “attitudes and beliefs that young people can shake off the virus”. Included among the reasons for getting vaccinated are “concerns for others”, and “desires beyond self and desires to help others”.

We wanted to hear directly from millennials within our community regarding their feelings about the vaccine— and their advice to other millennials. Here is what they shared with us about getting vaccinated.

Damien Payne
Technical Coordinator for Ezekiel / Project Hope

My decision to get the COVID-19 vaccination came without hesitation because of a pre-existing medical condition: asthma. As an African American, there is a certain built-in leeriness regarding government-mandated vaccines because of our history with the Tuskegee experiment. Yet, when I was given the opportunity as an essential worker to partake in the Moderna vaccine, I simply could not pass on the chance to get immunized. About a month ago, I received both shots with minimal side effects. A sense of health, security, and safety that has been missing for 16 months has returned with the long awaited optimism of looking forward to a summer of festivals, live music, family gatherings, barbecues, and fellowship.

Janette Millon
College Student

I received both shots. I decided to get the vaccine because after doing some research, I understood that it would best protect me from the virus. After the second dose, I was very sleepy, but that was the only side effect. I would advise others to get the vaccine. It is going to protect us, and the ones we care about.

Jasmine Jones
Self-employed Entrepreneur

Initially I had a ‘wait and see’ attitude. I’m going to get the vaccine, though I haven’t yet. I did not want to get vaccinated until my children (ages 13 and 15) were eligible, and we could all get it together. But I will be getting it even though my kids are not yet eligible.

I hope it is worth it. I am a little worried about it making me sick. I usually do not even get a flu shot. My mom has been vaccinated and she had no side effects, so I decided to go ahead and get it.

Eryhah Wright
Full-time Employee / Student at MATC, Studying Web Design

I have gotten my first Pfizer shot and scheduled the second shot. My grandmother and I were talking about what is happening in the world and she explained that the vaccination was more than about me. She told me that she wanted me to be safe for her, and safe living and working around other people. Prior to that conversation I was sitting on the fence about getting the vaccination. My arm was a little sore and I was a little tired afterward getting the vaccine, but that is about it.

Mauricia (Reese) Finney
Nurse, recent University of WI-Parkside graduate

I did get the vaccine. I got the first dose of the Moderna vaccine in January and the second dose in February. I was very skeptical at first because there is a saying in my family, “you never take the first of anything.” I did not get the vaccine for myself. At first, I did it for my grandmother. She lives in an assisted living facility that only allowed individuals that have been vaccinated to visit. Later, I got the vaccine for myself and my parents; they are in their late 50s, early 60s. This was the most susceptible age range (for contracting COVID-19), and I did not want to be the cause of them getting sick. My advice to millennials is—because we are more tech savvy—do the research, look at all the data on Pfizer and Moderna, and pick a vaccine that’s best for you. Even if you decide it’s not for you, get a vaccine anyway so we (as a nation) can get to herd immunity. Once we reach that, we can all get back to what we call normal. There is no excuse for not ‘being in the know’. Everything you need to know is at the touch of your fingers. Look it up!

Echoing the thoughts of Reese, dismiss the myths and innuendo, do your own research, make an educated decision, and decide what is best for you and those you love—after all, you only live once!

The COVID-19 Awareness, Understanding, Screening, Social Support, and Empowerment Project encourages COVID-19 vaccinations among men and women in Southeastern Wisconsin by increasing public awareness and understanding about COVID-19; increasing access to resources essential to COVID-19 prevention and control in venues where Black Americans work, worship and are otherwise engaged; and, providing resources for navigation to COVID-19 screening and COVID-19 vaccination.

The project receives support through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. For more information about the project and access to available COVID-19 awareness, prevention, and control resources, contact Dr. Sandra Millon Underwood at underwoo@uwm.edu, 414-229-6076, or 262-595-2723.