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South Florida Teenagers Join National Push To Get More People Vaccinated Against COVID-19

New Voters is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that usually works to get high school students registered to vote, but has also added a vaccination campaign to its efforts.
Abigail Felan / New Voters
New Voters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that usually works to get high school students registered to vote, but has also added a vaccination campaign to its efforts.

A lot of people use TikTok to show short videos of a dance move or a cooking tip, but Coral Gables Senior High student Abigail Felan, 16, and her colleagues at New Voters are using it to promote getting protected against COVID-19 with a vaccine.

"I saw how crucial vaccinations are at the moment and how how hesitant a lot of high schoolers and teens are to get vaccinated," Felan, who's been vaccinated, told WLRN. "Not just because of their parents, but because they think it's too soon. They're concerned with any long-term effects. They've heard things about fertility issues. They've just heard a lot of false information about this."

Felan felt determined to start discussions with her peers here in South Florida and across the U.S. on the truth about vaccine safety and wanted to do it through New Voters. "There's no one else really looking to to really speak to the audience that we are," added Felan, who's the organizations communications director.

New Voters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization usually focused on helping high school students register to vote. Now, it's also spreading factual information on vaccine safety and how they enable people to be around each other without a big risk of spreading the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"Especially here in Miami where everyone just wants to go back to the beach, everyone wants to go out. Miami is so fun, and for people to be able to do that safely, they have to be vaccinated," Felan said. She's also taking time at school to speak about the vaccines in classrooms, and says teachers have supported discussions on vaccinations.

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently helped New Voters with the group's messaging. He taught them that these mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech can't alter a person’s DNA, or genetic material, because mRNA molecules instruct cells to make this coronavirus's spike protein. Then the body's immune system will attack those modified cells and will be able to do it again if a person gets an actual coronavirus infection, but the mRNA can't enter the cell's nucleus, where our DNA is.

What's more, mRNA vaccines have been in development for some 20 years.

"Since before you were born they’ve been working on this vaccine," Frieden said in an interview with New Voters. A snippet of the conversation is available on Instagram. "Corners were not cut; red tape was cut."

So far, more than 8,093,000 people in Florida have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This week, Moderna reported its COVID-19 vaccines are 100% effective in people 12 to 17 years old, two weeks after the second dose, according to its data from clinical trials. The company will request emergency use authorization for this age group from the Food and Drug Administration in June.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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