COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As vaccinations continue across the state, DHEC’s data shows not as many young people are getting vaccinated as older South Carolinians.
Health experts are raising the alarm about the danger of a possible fourth wave if young people let their guard down.
“Young people are the arms and legs of the epidemic,” Prisma Health Infectious Disease Physician Edwin Hayes said. “They might not necessarily be the endpoint in terms of severe disease and hospitalizations, but they are a big part of what perpetuates this virus and allows it to get into communities where there are vulnerable individuals.”
Hayes said because of the risk of spreading the virus to others, young people getting vaccinated is critical to stopping the fourth wave.
“There isn’t anywhere where this battle isn’t happening, and young people are going to be critical to ending this,” Hayes said.
DHEC data shows the number of COVID cases is highest among young people ages 21 to 30 currently, but the rate of vaccinations for those 16-24 years old is lower than older populations. DHEC reports only 3.3% of those vaccinated have been between those ages.
“Unfortunately those younger adults are continuing to be infected and some of that I think is they feel invulnerable. They feel: “I’m young and healthy, if I get COVID so what?” South Carolina Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said.
Hayes warned that although young people for the most part don’t get as severely ill as older age groups, he has seen cases of young people having issues with brain fog, blood clots, and chronic fatigue.
Kelly said she also thinks some university students aren’t getting the vaccine because they don’t want to worry about vaccine side effects during exam time.
“They are worried they can’t take one day out to have some symptoms,” Dr. Kelly said. “So communicating with that age group about setting your priorities, what is most important, and protecting not only yourself but your family when you go home.”
Chief Health Officer at the University of South Carolina, Deborah Beck, said UofSC is encouraging students to get vaccinated and making it accessible with an on-campus vaccination site.
“The students have a patient portal; it’s called my health space, and students can go on 24/7 to make an appointment to get the vaccine, so it’s extremely easy,” Beck said.
Beck said even though it’s hard to get a complete picture of the number of UofSC student vaccinations because many students are going off-campus to get the vaccine, she said their records show over 5,000 students have been vaccinated out of the 35,000 person student body.
“In order to stop the spread of COVID, we have to get shots in the arm, and our students have been very responsive,” Beck said.
As these students get ready to head home to their families for summer break in the coming months, health officials are calling on more to get vaccinated.
“My message to young people would be you can make a difference,” Hayes said. “You have an opportunity to personally end this epidemic.”
Looking forward to when students return back to campus here in the Fall, Beck said they are going to ask all students to submit their vaccine card or get tested once a month in the Fall.