Young Floridians will soon have access to COVID vaccines come April, but will they get the shot?

Florida beaches are seeing big spring break crowds notwithstanding the danger of COVID variants in Florida. File shot from Clearwater Beach on March 18, 2020. Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Alex Morrison, 26, lives in Pensacola at the far end of the Florida Panhandle. He’s one of millions of young Floridians who have been waiting for the state to allow young adults to get in line for a COVID-19 vaccine.

And Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis made it happen, allowing age 18 and older residents to get the shots starting April 5.

Will the young adult crowd show up, or ditch the idea? In the world of youth — fearless, rowdy, and even reckless — it’s hard to say whether young people want the COVID vaccination or think they need it.

For Morrison, it’s a no-brainer. He works as a restaurant server and interacts with customers every day, so he’s relieved to get access to the vaccine.

“I’m glad. It’s about time,” Morrison told the Phoenix. “I certainly wished that my job as a service industry worker would enable me to get it a little earlier — but apparently not.”

Not every young person will feel the same.

The University of South Florida in January released the results of a nationwide survey about COVID vaccines. Among those surveyed aged between 18 to 24, 60.2 percent said they would “definitely or probably” get vaccinated. For those 25 to 34, the number dropped to 52.3 percent.

The remaining respondents in those age groups were “definitely not,” “probably not,” or didn’t know whether they would get the COVID vaccine.

Some 4.6-million people between 18 and 34 live in Florida, according to Miami Matters, and DeSantis on Thursday opened a wide age bracket by approving eligibility for 18 and older residents.

But the governor is already behind other states in that picture.

In fact, other states have already approved vaccines for residents 18 and older, and even 16 and older. Some of those states are  ConnecticutGeorgiaIdahoOhioNorth CarolinaTennesseeTexas, and Utah, according to local news reports.

The Phoenix reached out to the DeSantis administration for comment about why the age 16 and older bracket was not included, but got no response.

Justin Atkins is 32 and works as the national political manager for the nonprofit NextGen America. In 2019 and 2020, Atkins worked as the state director of NextGen Florida, trying to get more young Floridians engaged in the electoral process.

“Myself, as a young Black man, some of the things we hear about are the Tuskegee experiments. So we start to hear about these things from our family members, and some of our family members are skeptical of the vaccine,” Atkins said. “So, I think there is a segment of young people that are not trusting of the government.”

But, in the end, Atkins thinks there are more younger people who trust science and medical professionals and are ready to get the COVID vaccine. And he said he plans to get vaccinated.

At the same time, some young people don’t worry about COVID-19 symptoms and don’t see getting the vaccine as necessary.

Even DeSantis expects young Floridians will be less interested in getting the vaccine.

During a news conference in Citrus County earlier this month, DeSantis said about the vaccine: “I think there is going to be a much less percentage of 25-year-olds that want it then 75-year-olds and, honestly, that’s sensible because the risk is much different,” he said.

Jessica Fernandez, 36, is the chair of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans. She said that, while it’s “wonderful” that the vaccine will soon be available to more people, it’s still a personal choice.

“People at low risk may not feel the need to get it,” Fernandez told the Phoenix. She suggested that federal officials could better explain the benefits of the vaccine for healthy people to overcome that hesitancy.

Recent images of packed Florida beaches and crowded streets in Miami filled with young visitors on spring break suggest some young people have little to no concern about COVID-19, which could lead to a new surge in cases.

On the other hand, some young Floridians didn’t wait for the governor’s permission to get the vaccine and found ways to get a shot.

Vanessa Contreras, 26, who lives in West Palm Beach, called her local Publix pharmacy daily in hopes it would have a spare dose. She had landed a new job that would involve more face-to-face interaction, so she was looking to get a vaccine quickly but ethically.

“Just this past Monday, they had one. And they said, ‘Hey, can you come in within an hour?’ And I said, ‘I’ll be there in five minutes,’” Contreras told the Phoenix.

Other young Floridians drove to Georgia to get their vaccine.

Emily Westmark, 24, of Tallahassee, got word that some Walmart pharmacies in Georgia had a “do not waste” list for the COVID vaccine and put her name on it, despite that she was from Florida.

Shortly after signing up, she got a return call from the Walmart Pharmacy in Georgia offering an appointment. The next day, she drove an hour to Thomasville (she got stuck behind a train for 30) minutes, and finally got a COVID shot.

“At first I felt pretty guilty,” Westmark said. “But then, when the opportunity presented itself to me, my thought was, ‘Okay, well if I don’t get it, what if it just gets thrown away?’”

She continued: “That’s silly — to feel guilty for helping to protect people. If it’s just going to get thrown away, why shouldn’t I take it?”

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.