As of this writing, two states have opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to those 16-years old and older: Alaska and Mississippi, on March 9th and March 16th, respectively.(Photo source)
It has been a little more than three months now that Pfizer-Biontech’s COVID-19 vaccine became the first widespread vaccine available in the fight against the COVID pandemic. Not only was the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine a pioneer at a time of need and relief for some of the most vulnerable populations, but it was also a pioneer in that it was available for those 16 years of age and older.
With President Joe Biden’s recent call to get the vaccine made available to everyone by May 1st, it seems that states are going ahead and extending availability to not just vulnerable populations like seniors and those with pre-existing conditions, but to those in the public in general. Two states, Alaska as of last week, and Mississippi as of today, have extended their vaccine rollout plan to nearly every resident of their state- those 16 years of age and older.
This not only marks a breakthrough in the fight against the pandemic, but it also provides a breakthrough in the fight for youth rights. If 16-year olds are seen as eligible for a vaccine that protects them from only one of numerous pandemics/diseases out there for a period of time, I think they should be eligible to cast a vote for their local representative who, in many cases, could be in office for many years.
While most experts don’t know how long the vaccine could provide immunity for, some representatives that get chosen to represent their districts could stay for years, often spanning many milestone periods of an individual, say the latter’s last years of high school, their first job, their first years of college, their first home, etc. In the case of a politician, the choice could have longer-lasting effects than a vaccine that we don’t know whether we’ll need one in another year or two like the flu shot. In other words, voting would have longer lasting effects on an individual’s life, much like many organizations that have advocated for lowering the voting age have been saying this whole time.
If 16-year olds are seen as both potential spreaders of COVID-19 and at the same time a means to prevent the spread of it, hence the need to include them in the vaccinated population, then, like being able to decide whether they can be inoculated or not, they should be able to choose those who represents them in office. In the latter case, many of the people who are already in office were instrumental in getting more youth part of their state’s vaccination consideration. But what about for other issues? We can’t always count on politicians to make the same call or what’s best for youth all the time. The best way to ensure this is to give 16-year olds the vote.
With the recent announcement of H J Res 23 by New York Rep. Grace Meng last month, it appears the age of 16 has been mentioned frequently again. Now is the time for youth-supportive organizations to take advantage of this momentum. Not only do we have a better political environment this time and possibly the last term of Speaker Pelosi, one of the most vocal supporters of lowering the voting age o 16, but we also have one of the most conducive environments in general- a sizable number of school-age supporters of lowering the voting age are still in remote learning, if even, and we have states opening up vaccinations to the prime target group we’re advocating for-16 year olds. Both of these developments won’t be around after COVID-19 and many of the people and legislation we’re working on now would have to start almost from scratch.
There is far too much at stake based on what I have described previously. We already have a social media plan that I would like all organizations that are interested in empowering youths to consider reading. It provides not only a powerful means by which to get lowering the voting age noticed on the social media radar, but also to connect with the actual people who are in office who want to make it happen, as well as the people responsible for voting on whether it becomes a reality or not.
I urge all youth-empowering organizations to read the social media plan and get as many people who can help to enact act as soon H J Res 23 is discussed and voted on.