Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, held a virtual town hall to address young adults' concerns on the COVID-19 vaccine on July 20.
The panel consisted of young adults and medical experts, including recent MSU graduate Ally Telfor, University of Michigan sophomore and founder of Save Summer 2021 Christina El Zarka, pediatric Dr. Joseph Fakhoury, Eligibility Specialist for MDHHS Durrell Hill, Cleveland Cavaliers' director of digital content strategy Javon Shell, and twin Drs. Jay Jeremy and Jermaine Hogstrom. The panel was moderated by Danielle El-Amin, strategic advisor to Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.
This town hall marks the first of a series of community town halls to help answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the MDHHS's Facebook page.
Panelists spoke on a variety of vaccine-related topics, focusing on common questions and misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fakhoury said that while side effects to the vaccine can serve as a sign that the vaccine is working, the absence of side effects does not mean that the vaccine is not effective.
“Everyone is going to respond super differently to everything, whether it’s a vaccine, or a medication, or even if you get sick,” Fakhoury said.
Jeremy Hogstrom spoke on the perspective that the mRNA technology behind the COVID-19 vaccine was rushed, based on the speed at which the vaccine was developed.
“I think there’s a common misconception that this technology was completely brand-new, that it was tossed into the labs in an experiment and somehow in a couple of months it was like a magical thing that had been concocted so fast,” he said.
Jeremy Hogstrom explained that mRNA technology has been studied for around 20 to 30 years, in trials on other viruses like the Zika virus or the Ebola virus.
Zarka said that her decision to get vaccinated was due in part to her trust in medical professionals.
“You wouldn’t tell an engineer how to build a bridge...you’d trust the physics and the science and the expert to tell you that that bridge is safe to cross thousands of cars over every single day,” Zarka said. “So that was my same mentality with doctors and medical professionals and epidemiologists and researchers—they know what they’re talking about.”
Zarka, a rising college sophomore, is the founder of Save Summer 2021, a nonprofit campaign that aimed to target vaccine disinformation and misinformation among young people. At the panel, Zarka urged her peers to get vaccinated to avoid infecting the elderly, contributing to the spread of mutated COVID-19 strains and ultimately making the vaccine less effective.
Zarka also encouraged young people to get their vaccine info from their doctors rather than from the internet.
Hill said that one of the main reasons he got the vaccine was to avoid getting his grandmother sick, as he spends a lot of time around her.
Additionally, besides not wanting to spread the virus, he was motivated to get vaccinated by his previous experience with COVID-19. While his symptoms weren’t severe, he said he wanted to avoid getting it again, and possibly experiencing worse symptoms the second time around. He also said he got the vaccine so that he could be around his family.
“I had a couple family members before say like 'You don’t have the vaccine, no you can’t come around right now,' which is very understandable,” Hill said. “I appreciate them for doing that because that also helped motivate me to just go ahead and get it.”
Shell, as a content creator, said that the pandemic prevented him from doing all the aspects of his job that he loved the most and that the vaccine allowed a return of normalcy and fun for his career.
“It definitely feels a little bit better," Shell said. "The NBA draft is next week, we have summer league coming up and a lot of these events that we had last year, there were no people there. Even for our games, we had no fans for a good amount of the season."
For Shell, being able to tell his camera crew that they can now travel to these events and actually be around the players felt really good because they couldn’t do that during the pandemic.
Telfor also shared her perspective on getting vaccinated.
“Regardless of my political leaning or of my friend’s political leaning, we all had this conversation of 'Is this is a good idea,'” Telfor said. “We’re also to the age where our parents aren’t deciding these things for us anymore, we’re deciding this for us.”
However, Telfor ultimately decided to get the vaccine after considering her wants, her fears, and what she wanted to avoid, realizing that ridding herself of her anxiety of the virus was worth getting the vaccine.
“I was anxious the entire time, since COVID came to the U.S., about getting it...,” Telfor said. “We never know the full risk of anything, but when you go and try to compare one versus the other, I was thinking it was better to get a vaccine than to risk getting COVID.”
Telfor also said that while she didn’t want to push the vaccine on others, she was able to feel safe by choosing to spend time with those that had already been vaccinated.
“There are a lot of things that I can’t control. I can’t control who I’m in the grocery store with, I can’t control who I’m in the doctor’s office with, but I can control who I invite over to my house, and I can control where I go on a Friday night,” Telfor said.
State News staffer SaMya Overall contributed to the reporting of this article.
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