Teens and Young Adults: The New Focus For COVID-19 Vaccines

This week, AM analysts track recent spikes in COVID-19 cases among the younger population. Although cases have fallen and nearly half of all Americans have had at least one vaccine shot, serious infections are on the rise in younger adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that nationally, adults under 50 now account for the most hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the country — about 35% of all hospital admissions. Those aged 50 to 64 account for the second-highest number of hospitalizations, or about 31%. Meanwhile, hospitalizations among adults over 65 have fallen significantly.

According to National Public Radio (NPR), doctors are seeing a shift in COVID-19 patients from the elderly to young and middle-aged adults. “We’re now seeing people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s — young people who are really sick,” says Dr. Vishnu Chundi, an infectious disease physician and chair of the Chicago Medical Society’s COVID-19 task force. “Most of them make it, but some do not. … I just lost a 32-year-old with two children, so it’s heartbreaking.”  

The rise in cases among younger people can be seen nationwide. The Sun Journal recently reported that for the last several weeks, state health officials in Maine are seeing an increase in hospitalization rates among younger unvaccinated patients. Just a few months ago, New Jersey saw a 31% jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations among young adults ages 20 to 29, and the 40-49 age group saw a 48% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. AM analysts also found that Jacksonville, Florida is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases among younger adults. UF Health CEO, Dr. Leon Haley, told the school board and city leaders that although the numbers are not dramatic, cases among the younger population have increased over the last few weeks. “If you look at the age now in the state of Florida and Duval county for admissions, that number, that peak number it’s really between 25 and 34,” Haley said. “And the next group is 15 to 24 and the group after that is 35 to 40. It’s almost a wholesale shift from who was vulnerable from a year or so ago. So, it is a reminder that the next group we need to target with vaccines and education is that younger group.” 

Experts are unclear as to why more younger adults are being hospitalized with COVID-19 infections, but the phenomenon may be attributed to the rise of variants, vaccine hesitancy, relaxed attitudes toward social distancing, or that fewer younger Americans have been inoculated. In fact, almost 86% of the elderly population (65 years of age or older) has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and three in four are fully vaccinated compared with 62% of people 18 years of age or older who have gotten at least one shot and a little over half (51.7%) are fully vaccinated.

Although experts are unable to pinpoint an exact reason for the rise in COVID-19 cases among younger Americans, there is a growing need to push targeted messages about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines to this generation. We know that there is no “one size fits all” message that universally appeals to all populations. Therefore, when authorities are planning campaigns aimed at this demographic,  messaging strategies must address the issues that matter most to them – mental health, friendship, relationships, socialization, employment, disruption of education, and individual freedom. Peer groups and influencers matter and using targeted behavioral communication methodologies will also likely have more success than generic mass marketing campaigns.


AM TRACE is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM TRACE for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at

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