One of the biggest risks we now face is young people not taking the vaccine

·4 min read
<p>The vaccine rollout is continuing across the UK</p> (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

The vaccine rollout is continuing across the UK

(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

As the UK finally begins to open up, things we could only dream about for the past year are becoming a reality. Family BBQs, birthday parties and spontaneous trips down the pub, all in person rather than huddled around a laptop screen. Holidays with laps around the pool – not your local park. Thanks to the rapid progress of the UK’s vaccine rollout, all of this is now tantalisingly close.

But as society begins to open up again and life appears to be returning to normal, there is a risk that people won’t feel inclined to get the vaccine themselves, particularly given that the majority of the older, more vulnerable demographic have been vaccinated. Add to that the onset of summer and the sense of confidence better weather may bring, and we have a perfect storm of factors that could result in an increase in ambivalence around vaccine take-up.

Young people are among those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic – with two teenage children, I have witnessed first-hand how heavy the toll of lockdown has weighed, and that’s in a house with good broadband and a device for those who need it. Many have not been so lucky.

Education has been disrupted, long-term employment is more difficult to come by and furlough has disproportionately impacted the young – not to mention those formative social experiences that we older generations have taken for granted. For a group used to frequent interaction, the sudden plunge into social distancing has caused isolation and put an additional strain on people’s mental health.

While it’s understandable young people might just want to put the pandemic behind them, we can’t afford to put all the hard work and sacrifices from the last year under threat, and we believe that YouTube has a key role to play in preventing ambivalence and sharing information about the vaccine. This week, we announced we are partnering with the NHS on a light-hearted campaign to prepare the nation’s 18-34 year olds to get vaccinated.

Official data shows vaccine hesitancy rates are highest for younger people (13 per cent among 16-29s) and almost double the national average (7 per cent), with concerns about side effects and the efficacy of the vaccine cited as the main reasons. So we’re rolling out a campaign across YouTube, press, advertising and social media with the tagline “Let’s Not Go Back” to tackle people’s concerns and remind our core 18-34-year-old audience of the value – to their lives – of being vaccinated.

Effective communication has been key to building confidence and trust in the vaccine. The NHS plays an incredibly important role as the official source of Covid-19 information on YouTube, providing clear and trustworthy advice backed by science – our Covid information panels have driven millions of visits to the NHS since the start of the pandemic.

We see YouTube as a key partner in taking this information and communicating it across the platform in a way that resonates with younger audiences. After all, with 98 per cent of 18-34s in the UK using YouTube each month, the platform plays a significant role in their lives.

Since lockdown, we’ve adapted very quickly to online living. From online learning and working to virtual exercise, quizzes and hobbies, we’ve learnt how digital content can enrich our lives. At the same time, we’ve seen a real burst of creativity on YouTube in the UK. The desire to offer new experiences and produce content about our lived experience has skyrocketed, we have also seen more than 60 collaboration videos with scientists and health experts published, receiving more than 65m views.

Take Leena Normington, for example, who recently worked with the NHS medical director for primary care, Dr Nikita Kanani, to reimagine health content in a humorous, no-nonsense video that is more palatable and comprehensible for her audience. It’s the kind of realism that really resonates with those more tapped into on-demand viewing.

From right across the UK, YouTube has witnessed incredible levels of creativity through the pandemic, and our creators and their audiences have shown enormous generosity of spirit in doing the right thing – from health-drive and fundraising efforts of Joe Wicks’ PE sessions to the informational campaigns from the some of the biggest creators, like the Sidemen. People come to YouTube to connect with the creators and artists that speak to and inspire them.

It was the creativity and community spirit demonstrated across our platform that was the inspiration for our “Let’s Not Go Back” campaign, using humour and speaking to personal experiences from a year in lockdown to remind those still to be vaccinated that there is still one more critical step.

As we continue to face the public health challenge of our lifetime. How we respond as a nation could influence our lives for years to come, and we want to use our platform and reach to ensure vaccine ambivalence doesn’t disrupt the incredible progress made so far.

As the platform where the world comes to watch, learn, create and entertain, we’re committed to meeting this moment and bringing this message to this audience and ensure we never go back – only forwards.

Ben McOwen Wilson is managing director of YouTube UK and Ireland

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