‘Young invincibles’ need to get the message that they’re also vulnerable
By Dennis Archambault
We know who they are. They are bright, bold, and go where older, “wiser” people have been — in harm’s way. The COVID-19 pandemic began with the assumption that the old and medically compromised were at risk for the disease. And they were. But there was also an assumption that young adults weren’t vulnerable or children. That has proven wrong.
We know who they are because many of us were once them. Recent reports that young adults are flocking to bars and restaurants — and “COVID” parties — contributing to the spread of the disease alarms older adults(https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/100000007222165/who-coronavirus-young-people-obesity.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20200703&instance_id=20002&nl=todaysheadlines). Yet we need to reflect honestly on our youth and we’d probably find at least one example of foolish, perhaps even harmful behavior.
Displaying self-destructive and extremely risky behaviors is often a rite of passage among youth, who consciously or unconsciously think of themselves as “invincible.” We thought of ourselves — if we thought at all — as “invincible.” We may have paid consequences for our actions or got away with them. Years later, we may laugh about the stupidity, or regret it. If we didn’t do it, we’re grateful.
The term “young invincible” grew out of the debate over the Affordable Care Act. It represented healthy people, ages 19-26, without health insurance. Prior to the law’s passage, there was concern that this population segment needed health insurance to have access to the health system. The Affordable Care Act was enacted under the assumption that young adults not only would have access to health insurance – they were mandated to buy it. Many young people didn’t see the point: they were healthy and that was an expense they could do without. Older advocates for the law referred to them as “young invincibles.”
The term stuck, as millennials made it their own. It became a rallying cry for millennials through a podcast called “Generation Invincible,” and an advocacy organization called “Young Invincibles.” In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on June 23, Rachel Fleisher, executive director of Young Invincibles (https://younginvincibles.org/who-we-are/our-team/), submitted several policy recommendations for the Senate to consider in the impact of COVID-19 on young adults. She might have added one point: Enlist our help in persuading our generation to adopt prudent public health measures to contain the coronavirus.
For those of a certain age willing to admit it, they might say: “Been there, done that.” And, just maybe, if in the context of peer pressure, we might have felt pressured to attend a COVID-19 party, especially after a long, boring quarantine. We wouldn’t have listened to older adults then, why would the invincibles do it now? They may respond to creative messaging in media they are engaged with. They will listen to their peers, especially opinion leaders.
As in communicating other public health initiatives – smoking cessation, drinking and driving, safety belt use, safe sex, national and state health authorities should develop a campaign – through reason, peer pressure, humor, maybe even fear – motivating young adults to adopt masking, physical distancing, and other health behaviors during this pandemic. Enlist the support of Young Invincibles, Generation Invincible, celebrities, and other resources to reach the population. Young invincibles are also young vulnerables.
Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.