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Young adults may have a false sense of security because they are less likely to experience complications, be hospitalized, or die from COVID-19 than older adults are. However, it is important to realize that the risks are still there, even if they are less.

The Risks

Younger adults are often in settings where there is a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. For example, many in this population work in restaurants, bars, schools, retail places, etc. In these places, they are more likely to be in contact with those who may have the disease, increasing their risk of acquiring it.

Younger adults with conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are at a higher risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19. A recent study titled Clinical Outcomes in Young US Adults Hospitalized With COVID-19 examined more than 3,000 young adults, defined as ages 18 to 34 years old. Of this group, the study showed that 21% required admission to the ICU, 10% required being placed on a ventilator, and 2.7% died.

Even if a younger adult has an asymptomatic or mild infection from COVID-19, it is important to understand that it is possible for them to transmit the infection to others who may be at a higher risk, such as older adults (parents or grandparents) and young children (their own children or children they may be around).

Get the Shot

Around the country, vaccination rates are much higher in older adults compared to younger adults. With the delta variant now significantly spreading and becoming the dominant strain in the United States, medical professionals are seeing an increased spread in the younger population because of the lower vaccination rate among that group. There is a corresponding increase in the number of hospitalizations, severe disease, and even death in younger adults who are not vaccinated.

Myocarditis and Pericarditis

The FDA has added a warning to COVID-19 vaccines about the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis in young adults and adolescents. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is a swelling and irritation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. There have only been approximately 1,000 cases reported out of the near 177 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine in the US.

Most of reports have been in male adolescents and young adults ages 16 years and older. It is more common after the second dose than the first, and usually occurs within a few days of having received the vaccine. These almost exclusively non-severe cases of myocarditis and pericarditis are treated with rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), things like ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Currently, no deaths have occurred, and almost all of the patients have been discharged from the hospital.

It is important to remember that, while this is a known adverse effect in young patients, it is extremely rare and not usually considered serious. Therefore, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of this and other adverse effects. Also, COVID-19 as a disease itself poses a significant risk to the heart, even in younger people who have never had any heart related issues.


Get the Shot! - Alabama ExtensionSpencer H. Durham, Associate Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy; Marilyn Bulloch, Associate Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy

New July 2021, COVID-19 and Young Adults

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