From TikTok dances to fashion statements to old-fashioned public service announcements, teens are doing their part to encourage other young people to sign up for their COVID-19 vaccine shots.
In Springfield, Illinois, 15-year-old Aliyah Hashmi created a line of "vaccinated" T-shirts for people to show off their vaccination status and also remind everyone that we're all in this together.
The high school freshman told TODAY she was inspired to do something after seeing the toll the pandemic was taking on her mother, a doctor working on the front lines.
"My family and I were talking about ways to help stop the spread," Hashmi said. "And with the vaccine coming out, I wanted to do something to help bring awareness."
Hashmi herself isn't old enough to get the shot — Pfizer has requested clearance to expand use of its vaccine to people aged 12-15, but it has not been approved yet — yet she knows that vaccinations are the key to returning to some semblance of her old life.
- Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.
- Get TODAY's One Small Thing newsletter in your inbox each day.
"This is my first year of high school. I've been remote all year," she said. "I've been really isolated. So I feel like if everyone worked together and got vaccinated, then we wouldn't have to wear masks outside. It can start getting back to normal."
So far Hashmi has raised more than $7,000 in proceeds, which she's donated to a food bank and micro pantries in Illinois.
In Jacksonville, Florida, a group of teenagers have created a campaign to get the word out about vaccine access and help their peers make educated choices. Students from the I'm a Star Foundation teamed up with The Florida Times-Union to create a video, and they're asking their peers to share their own inoculation stories on social media using the hashtags #communityimmunity and #melanatedandvacinated.
As 17-year-old Journey Butler put it, the best people to influence young people are other young people. Butler, one of the students in the PSA, told TODAY that she's noticed some vaccine hesitancy among her peers, but said that it's usually because they simply don't know enough about the vaccines.
"People don't know what you don't tell them," she said. "I've heard so many crazy things. The number one reason I've heard (for not getting vaccinated) is because there's not enough research regarding the vaccine, since it came very quickly. It's hard to overcome negativity when you don't have the facts."
Butler has not been vaccinated yet, but plans to be soon.
Rachel Kabala, a 16-year-old in Detroit, had seen similar misinformation spreading at her high school. That's what prompted her to write an article for her district's website about the importance of getting vaccinated.
"I was really excited about the COVID vaccines because (they) meant a lot of things — hope to resume better days, lives ... hope for me to finally regain a school year," Kabala told TODAY. "The vaccine means us going back to in-person learning ... the vaccine will mean we get to resume activities. The vaccine means that I will get to compete in in-person science fair competitions. The vaccine will mean that we'll get to travel to places."
Kabala, who wants to be a biomedical engineer, has received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and will get the second shot in May, she said.
Many teens are, of course, turning to social media to share their vaccination statuses. There's even — you guessed it — a TikTok vaccine dance. Young people have popularized a viral move known as "the windmill" or "helicopter arm," which involves swinging your arm in circles after getting the shot to reduce soreness. (It's true that moving your arm can help minimize pain at the injection site — here are a few other tips for managing vaccine side effects.)
What these teens are doing is more important than ever, since vaccine interest among young people is dropping. Twenty-six percent of Gen Zers, defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, said that they do not plan to get vaccinated, according to a March 2021 poll by NBCLX/ Morning Consult. That's a sharp increase from a poll done a year earlier, when only 5% Gen Zers said they would not get vaccinated.
On TODAY Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed the importance of people getting vaccinated, even if they're young and healthy.
"You can get infected and will get infected if you put yourself at risk," he said. "Even if you don't have any symptoms, you're propagating the outbreak because it is likely that you ... may inadvertently and innocently then infect someone else who might infect someone who really could have a problem with a severe outcome. So if you want to only worry about yourself and not society, then that's OK. But if you're saying to yourself, if I get infected I could do damage to someone else even if I have no symptoms at all? That's the reason you've got to be careful and get vaccinated."