The Biden administration’s pleas for young people to get vaccinated took a personal turn Tuesday as top COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt revealed his teenage son is still experiencing symptoms after he contracted the virus last fall.
Mr. Slavitt kicked off a White House briefing with humor, saying older folks love to share graduation-season advice like “live up to your potential” or “wear sunscreen,” so he might as well pile on by pleading with young people to roll up their sleeves.
“Whether you are a graduate, still in high school, in college, just out or more than a little bit out, it’s the most important thing you can do right now,” Mr. Slavitt said.
He said the pandemic has upended young people’s lives through online schooling, job losses and the deaths of parents and grandparents but the country is asking them to be good citizens and step forward for the vaccine.
“You’ve seen and experienced stress in a way you haven’t before,” Mr. Slavitt said. “We’re winning the war on the virus and we need you to help us finish the job.”
His comments turned serious as he described how one of his sons, though in his late teens and physically fit, contracted COVID-19 last fall and still suffers from a fast heart rate, shortness of breath and frequent flu-like symptoms. His hands are often cold to the touch, and it’s unclear how long the symptoms will last.
“Many young people are in this situation and many, many have it worse,” he said.
Officials are hoping to counter the idea that young people don’t need the shots because older adults were far more likely to land in the hospital or die from the coronavirus over the past year. Besides the threat of lingering effects from infection and aggressive viral variants, scientists say young people need to get vaccinated to contribute to widespread immunity to the disease and thwart transmission.
Regulators recently approved the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech for those aged 12 to 15, giving adolescents an option for the first time.
Nearly half of the U.S. population — 47.5% — has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 37% completed their vaccination course, according to federal data.
Scientists say at least 70% of the population should be vaccinated to truly wrangle down the virus, so the administration is using a mix of pleas and incentives to get more people to come forward.
A person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or a second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna versions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors in most settings. Officials said the sudden update should encourage people to get vaccinated and enjoy the perk, though others say it will have the opposite effect as unvaccinated people ditch their coverings to blend in.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday it is “reasonable and understandable” for some stores to keep their mask rules, despite relaxed federal guidance, because it is not clear who received the shots.
The doctor said businesses are reporting they have no mechanism for determining vaccination status — vaccine “passports” are controversial — and are making their own decisions about how to protect employees and customers.
“I think that’s where the confusion arises,” said Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “[Some customers] might be infected and might have a risk of infecting someone else. And under those circumstances, it’s perfectly reasonable and understandable for the owner of the establishment to say, ‘You know, we’re going to keep the mandate up.’”