When pop star Olivia Rodrigo sings the lyrics “good 4 u” on her new breakout album Sour, she’s sending a sardonic message to an ex-boyfriend. But Wednesday, the 18-year-old paid a visit to the White House to send a sincere version of that message to her millions of fans to get “happy and healthy.” Got the COVID-19 vaccine? Good 4 u.
President Joe Biden announced the arrival of the rising star on Twitter, saying “Olivia Rodrigo is stopping by the White House today with a clear message to young people: get vaccinated. It’s the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from the dangerous new COVID-19 variants. Head to http://vaccines.gov to find a clinic near you.”
Ahead of her visit, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC that she’s exactly the type of “trusted messenger” that young people need to help persuade them to get the vaccine. The mission to mobilize this age group to get the COVID-19 is both noble and urgent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, just 2.6 percent of 12-to-15-year-olds and 7.8 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds are fully vaccinated. By comparison, nearly triple the number of 25-to-39-year-olds are fully vaccinated and 14 percent of 40-to-49-year-olds. The low number of vaccinations in young people is likely one reason why Biden’s goal of getting 100 million people vaccinated in the first 100 days of his term failed.
But that’s not the only problem. With the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus spiking across the U.S., experts say vaccinations are crucial to preventing another nationwide lockdown. Infectious disease specialists at Yale University confirmed this week that those who are vaccinated appear to have immunity from the new mutation. It’s a statement backed up by a recent map of data from the CDC that showed that the states with the highest level of COVID-19 cases are also those where less than 30 percent of the state is vaccinated.
So why aren’t young people getting vaccinated? Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says that “multiple factors” have led to low vaccination rates among this age group. For one, young people are , likely due to messaging about seniors being the most at risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19. “The fact is that they tend to be spared from the severe consequences of infection,” Adalja tells Yahoo Life. “So that may influence their perceived need for vaccination.”
Another thing — while the vaccine may provide older people with a feeling of freedom, their younger counterparts may have gotten this elsewhere. “A lot of older people there, they get vaccinated and then they get back to resuming their activities,” says Adalja. “Many younger people have resumed their activities long before they’re vaccinated.” Due to the lower numbers among their age group, this demographic may also not be able to grasp that they are equally susceptible to contracting the virus, and therefore still at risk of developing lasting symptoms such as fatigue, severe headache and brain fog, a condition now known as long COVID.
But what the White House seems focused on is how the COVID-19 vaccination information was dispensed. The initial plan involved mostly state departments and news stations, overlooking platforms where Generation Z spends the most time, such as TikTok and Instagram. In response, the Biden administration has been making a concerted effort to connect with this audience, first with Fauci hosting 2-minute interviews with young influencers, rattling off quotes like “tell all your TikTok buddies to get vaccinated.”
Olivia Rodrigo is the latest — and arguably biggest — attempt to reach this population thus far. The Disney star became an overnight sensation with the release of her single “Driver’s License,” and then gained millions of additional fans with her debut album, the success of which led her to break for the female with the most songs in the top 10 at one time.
In a statement sent to Yahoo Life, her manager shared more background about the visit on behalf of the White House. “The Biden-Harris Administration is making a continued push to get more young people vaccinated, including working with schools, pediatricians, summer camps and leveraging social media and celebrity influencers,” Rodrigo’s representative said. “To build on this success, we are bringing multi-platinum recording artist Olivia Rodrigo to campus, one of the most popular singer/songwriters today, especially with young people.”
Rodrigo’s team says that the videos “will be featured on Olivia’s channels, 28M+ followers across all channels.” Her first was posted on the White House’s Twitter account late Thursday afternoon and within hours had already acquired 200,000 views. “It’s so important we all get vaccinated,” Rodrigo said to the camera. “It doesn’t matter if you’re young and healthy, getting the vaccine is about protecting yourself, your friends and your family.”
As to whether the campaign will help, Adalja is hopeful. “What we find now is that what’s driving vaccinations often is getting information from people that an individual trusts, whether that’s a community member, your primary care doctor or a celebrity,” says Adalja. “It may be that this demographic may be more susceptible to influence by celebrity culture and if that’s the case, I think it’s a good method.”