Flint native working on statewide commission to alleviate vaccine hesitancy among young people

FLINT, Michigan -- Dondre Young, a Flint native, currently works at the Michigan Public Health Institute and serves as a special projects coordinator assigned to the Michigan Child Welfare Improvement Task Force. Young also works in another vital role as the chair on Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Protect Michigan Commission. 

Young primarily focuses on vaccine hesitancy and barriers that keep people between the ages of 16-30 year olds from obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine. Young talked with Flintside to discuss the challenges and goals to end vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccine distribution.

Flintside: The specific age group (16-30 year olds), why target that specific age range and what is the best way to do so?

Young: “I want to say we are near the end of COVID-19 and it's all depending on us. I am in the age group, I am 28-years-old. It's incredibly important to make sure that the young folks are vaccinated because of the broad network [the largest group needing to be vaccinated]. Also just to be quite honest with you, we're seeing a transition into one generation to the next. The population of Millennials and Generation Z is increasing and it is so important that we are vaccinated so we can reach our 70 percent goal by the end of the year. The end of the year is the overarching goal of the commission.”

Flintside: what are the biggest barriers/hesitancies this age group struggles with?

Young: “So one of the major barriers include accessibility, ease of accessibility. It is all about being able to get  the vaccine on-demand. There's also been a lot of conversation around the impact that it has on fertility. The reality is that a lot of millennials are thinking about what their future looks like when it comes to family planning. And many doctors, many OB-GYNs in particular, have noted and are educating their patients around the safety and efficacy of the vaccines around fertility. I can even note that I have some family members who received the vaccine and they are family planning. They’re expecting in a few months. I was also able to experience hesitancy on a personal level. I, too, was hesitant, even as the chair of the youth advisory work group. I was betting on not being able to get the vaccine until August or September which was the initial timeline for the age group. We were actually able to offer it in April to everyone who was 16 and older.”

Flintside: What are the ways you have been able to combat against misinformation?

Young: “So some of the ways that we have been working to combat hesitancy, first and foremost, is engaging with those who are hesitant and those who are kind of leaning towards getting the vaccine. It is incredibly important that we have folks of different backgrounds and diversity of thoughts around the vaccination efforts. And in particular working with the folks who are doing the work already. We have members of the youth advisory group who are working hands-on at vaccination sites across the state. Whether they’re training medical professionals, administering the vaccine or directing traffic and providing information on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. On the ground intel is incredibly important. Also listening to some of the concerns that folks have as they’re going through the line to get the vaccine. I will say for myself, I even accompany folks to the vaccination site whenever they ask me to. Like I said, I take things seriously and leading by example is important. I have offered to family, friends, and coworkers to go with them to their vaccination clinic to answer their questions and walk them through the whole process.”

Flintside: What gives you the  motivation and inspiration to do this work and end vaccine hesitancy? 

Young: “One, I got the vaccine and I love being engaged in this work because we're working to impact the lives of folks and trying to get people back to the lives that they had before COVID-19. There are a lot of folks who are introverted and they were happy being inside, but there are so many folks who are extroverted and being inside, the word that they used sometimes is, ‘contained.’ For me, there's a social responsibility, even when I want to go hang out with friends. This age group wants to go hang out with friends, wants to travel. There are folks who are still out of work. There are folks who want to be in-person at school, folks who no longer want to wear a mask for various reasons. There are folks who want to just get back to normal. That’s what drives me. And of course I want to eventually be able to go back to seeing people I used to hang out with. That's what motivates me. And also last, probably my love for public service. I just love helping people.”

A website created by a University of Michigan-Flint student, who has worked with Young, is an excellent resource for information on the vaccine and how to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
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Read more articles by Jenifer Veloso.