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Younger people are less likely than their older counterparts to have severe outcomes from contracting COVID-19, but hospitalizations and deaths have occurred within the group.
What’s more, vaccines are about more than just protecting yourself. Widespread vaccination can drive down disease rates and eventually help reach “herd immunity” from a virus.
More than 15% of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and as the pace of inoculation picks up and summer nears, it’s clear there are brighter days ahead.
Though we don’t yet know exactly how many Americans will have to be vaccinated to achieve "herd immunity" (the point at which outbreaks cease because the virus has so few new hosts to infect), scientists estimate that it’s at least 70% of the population and could be as high as 90%.
But U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, undercut that notion at a town hall meeting in Hudson on March 29, 2021. He told attendees he advised his adult daughters against getting vaccinated because they are "largely not susceptible to coronavirus," Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
"Think about this practically," Tiffany said he told his daughters. "You really are not under that much of a threat as a result of this virus, and I’m not sure why you would go and take a vaccine as a result of that."
So Tiffany is claiming it doesn't make sense for young adults to get the vaccine since they "really are not under that much of a threat as a result of this virus."
Implicit in that statement is the idea that getting vaccinated only benefits the individual. That ignores one of the fundamental purposes of immunization: protecting the community at large.
Let’s break it down.
Are younger people "not under that much of a threat" from COVID-19?
When asked for evidence to back up his claim, a Tiffany spokesperson pointed to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which shows fewer cases of the virus have been reported in children under age 17 when compared with adults, as well as a statement from former CDC director Robert Redfield that children are at more risk from influenza than from COVID-19.
He’s correct that children have fared better against the virus over the past year. In Wisconsin, residents ages 0-19 have made up about 16% of cases. Only 2% of those cases resulted in hospitalization, and there have only been three deaths in those between 10 and 19, according to data from the state Department of Health Services.
We’ve seen examples in recent weeks: A 14-year-old Milwaukee boy died of COVID-19 April 1, the first pediatric death the city has recorded from the virus, and 35 people (including 16 children) tested positive for a contagious COVID-19 variant at a Dane County child care center.
Cases and deaths among people ages 20-29, though — an age range that would include Tiffany’s two older daughters, according to WPR — are more common. Nearly 20% of the state’s cases were among people ages 20-29, though just 1% required hospitalization and 22 died.
Bottom line: Younger Wisconsinites aren’t under as much of a threat as those who are older, but serious cases have happened in the population — and they also risk spreading it to someone who is more susceptible to severe consequences from the virus.
Should young people skip the vaccine because the threat is lower?
Getting any vaccine helps people both protect themselves and their community from disease.
Each COVID-19 shot currently authorized in the U.S. was proven in clinical trials to significantly reduce a recipient’s chances of illness and death from the virus, which is how it protects the individual.
But once enough people are vaccinated against any virus, that virus won’t be able to travel as easily from person to person, and the entire community is less likely to get the disease, according to a vaccine fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Once that happens, the disease becomes rare.
For example, prior to the development of the measles vaccine in 1968, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15. After the vaccine was developed and used widely, disease rates were reduced drastically — by 1981, there were 80% fewer reported measles cases compared to the previous year, according to the CDC.
Herd immunity also protects the small number of people who can’t get a vaccine for medical or personal reasons, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Tiffany said it doesn't make sense for young adults to get the vaccine since they "really are not under that much of a threat as a result of this virus."
He’s correct that younger people generally are less likely than their older counterparts to become severely ill or die from the virus, but still, it has happened, meaning the vaccine would personally protect even young people from severe disease or death, even if the risk is small.
Getting enough people vaccinated is also crucial to reach herd immunity, which will protect the entire community.
Our definition of Mostly False is a statement that "contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."
That fits here.
Email exchange, office of Rep. Tom Tiffany, April 1, 2021
U.S. News & World Report, "CDC: 15% of U.S. population fully vaccinated against coronavirus," March 29, 2021
Washington Post, "How Wisconsin turned around its lagging vaccination program — and buoyed a Biden health pick," April 4, 2021
Wisconsin Department of Health Services, COVID-19 Vaccine Data, accessed April 5, 2021
Mayo Clinic, Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know, accessed April 5, 2021
Dear Pandemic, How many people have to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity? Will we ever get there? Dec. 30, 2020
Wisconsin Public Radio, "Wisconsin Congressman Tiffany Says He Advised His Adult Daughters Against Getting COVID-19 Vaccine," March 30, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Information for Pediatric Healthcare Providers, accessed April 5, 2021
Buck Institute, interview with Robert Redfield, July 14, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "A 14-year-old Hispanic Milwaukee boy dies from 'complications' with COVID-19," April 1, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Concern rises over COVID-19 variant as 16 young children infected in Dane County child care center outbreak," April 5, 2021
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Vaccines protect your community," accessed April 5, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "History of measles," accessed April 5, 2021
National Institutes of Health, "Community immunity: How vaccines protect us all," accessed April 5, 2021
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