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Pima County pushes to get more youths vaccinated
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Pima County pushes to get more youths vaccinated

David Greeson, 12, eyes the first shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine being readied for his arm at Pima County’s mobile vaccination clinic at Flowing Wells Junior High School. David and his two sisters got vaccinated Thursday and were among 200 people who got the shot that afternoon.

Mariska Campo, a 14-year-old Oro Valley resident, got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine the day after the CDC said it was OK for her age group to do so.

“I was mostly nervous but it only hurt for like, two seconds, and then it was done,” she said.

Campo has spent eighth grade in the chaos of hybrid in-person and online schooling, but now she feels ready to spend time with her friends this summer and can’t wait to attend high school classes in-person.

Valerie Campo, Mariska’s mother, said she rushed her daughter to the University of Arizona vaccine site to get her first dose after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer vaccine for ages 12 to 15 on May 12. The duo lives with Valerie’s 70-year-old mother and was anxiously waiting for the third member of the household to get her vaccine.

“It was just kind of that countdown to wait until her age group opened up,” Valerie said. “As a parent, I definitely wanted her to get it, especially for peace of mind knowing she will have that protection.”

As of June 1, 9,943 county residents from the newly eligible age group of 12- to 15-year-olds had received a vaccine and 35,621 residents from ages 12 to 18 had been vaccinated, according to Pima County data.

While Mariska has followed the CDC’s advice, there are many more youths the Pima County Health Department is encouraging to get their vaccine.

According to Brian Eller, the county’s program manager and COVID school liaison, while there was an influx of younger populations getting in line for a vaccine in early May, demand has since slowed down.

The county has offered several mobile vaccine sites geared toward youth at places such as Flowing Wells Junior High and Canyon del Oro High School.

But as part of a larger campaign to address vaccine hesitancy throughout the county, Eller says county employees spoke with several different cohorts of youth to determine what’s keeping younger populations from getting their shot.

“We got a lot of feedback with youth groups just to get an idea of what would work to encourage that population to get the vaccine,” he said. “One of the things that I heard was that they would see social media posts talking about adverse effects of the vaccine and really some misinformation. The hard part is that when those narratives come from their peer group, they tend to take that information at a higher level of perceived truthfulness than maybe more science-based resources.”

With the knowledge that youth are influenced by their peers and the wide reach of social media, the county set out to create a social media challenge for those younger than 24. The #VaxTruthChallenge encouraged contestants to create a video about the truth behind the COVID-19 vaccine.

Winners could choose from an array of prizes including a Nintendo Switch, Chromebook and Apple Airpods.

Amelia Jimenez won the first round of the contest. She submitted a TikTok video showing pre-pandemic clips of the 23-year-old singing along at a concert, cheering at a Diamondbacks baseball game and attending her graduation ceremony from Grand Canyon University in person.

“It’s just kind of reminding people of before everything happened with COVID and how life used to be, and that’s what we want to reach back to,” Jimenez said. “We want to go back to how life used to be, and the only way to do so is to get vaccinated.”

Amelia Jimenez' Tik Tok video about life before COVID-19 won the first round of Pima County's #VaxTruthChallenge. The contest offers prizes to those under 24 submitting social media videos related to the vaccine. 

Jimenez caught COVID-19 last summer and says she experienced trouble breathing and chest pains long after her infection was over.

“It was very important for me to spread awareness because even though I’m so young and I’m so healthy, COVID really was detrimental to my health,” she said. “A lot of people think that young people are completely fine and don’t have to worry. Everyone is different, and some people could be OK, but there are others that it could really affect in different ways.”

Although younger people who get COVID-19 may not experience severe cases, Eller emphasizes getting youth vaccinated is key to stopping the spread of the virus.

“If you acquire the virus, there is a period of 10 days from where you’re infectious with other people,” he said. “This is why it’s so important to get the vaccine, especially with people who are less likely to present with symptoms, because then they’re less likely to actually spread should they acquire COVID.”

The county just wrapped up its second #VaxTruthChallenge and is set to announce another winner soon, but the impact of the social media campaign is a win in itself for the county’s vaccination efforts.

“Some of those videos had considerable social media sharing going on within the circles that the youth had,” Eller said. “The communication that’s going to be received better by youth is communication from youth. So that message really has to come from their peers, and those are the individuals that have to share that, which is what we saw with some of these videos.”

Both Campo and Jimenez say they’ve heard hesitation among their peers about getting a vaccine. For Jimenez, creating her winning video was a mission to dispel some of the misinformation fueling vaccine fears, such as the common misconception that vaccines cause infertility.

“I personally know a few people that are concerned about getting it because they’re worried that they won’t be able to birth a child in the future, and it’s honestly not true, that’s stated on the CDC website,” Jimenez said. “It’s just really important that we make sure that we stop people from spreading misinformation and making sure that the right information is being broadcasted to our society.”

As for advice Campo would give her peers when it comes to getting a vaccine, she said, “It’s not really that bad.”

“Just get it done and over with,” she said. “It only takes like a second and then you’ll be done.”

Nicole Ludden

Arizona Daily Star

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Nicole joined the Star in 2021. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at ASU’s Cronkite school in 2020 and has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, AC Press and Arizona Press Club.

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