This successful teen star went to the White House to encourage young people to get vaccinated—and this move has the power to create serious (and seriously necessary) change.

By Zara Hanawalt
July 15, 2021
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An image of Olivia Rodrigo.
Credit: Getty Images.

When I first heard Olivia Rodrigo croon the chorus of her mega-hit "Driver's License," I was immediately transported back to my teenage days (let's be real, that earworm is all kinds of evocative). Earlier this week, Rodrigo took me on that same sort of journey to the past, albeit in a very, very different way: When the 18-year-old appeared alongside President Biden and Dr. Fauci at the White House, I imagined myself as a teenager again.

I thought about how influential it would be to have an absolute teen icon venture into a space reserved for people who, to a teen or young person, seem so very...well, old. And I thought about how Rodrigo was, in some way, bridging that incredibly wide gap between the worlds of national politics and teen pop culture. We've never needed that link more than we do right now—and if Rodrigo's White House visit does what she set out to do (and I suspect it will, to some degree at least), she may have just created change on a level we've rarely seen from a budding star.

The purpose for Rodrigo's visit was to connect with young people and encourage them to get vaccinated against COVID-19. "It doesn't matter if you're young and healthy. Getting the vaccine is about protecting yourself, your friends, and your family. Let's get vaccinated," the star said in a video clip from the visit.

This is an incredibly worthy endeavor: A new study from the Journal of Adolescent Health sheds light on vaccine hesitancy among people aged 18-25: 1 in 4 unvaccinated people surveyed from this age group reported they would "probably not" or "definitely not" get vaccinated against COVID. The implications of this are huge: While young people may not be considered high-risk for severe cases or death from COVID, they are, according to this study, one of the groups most likely to spread the virus.

It's not terribly surprising that this age demographic is hesitant to get vaccinated. Because young people spend so much time on social media, they're particularly vulnerable to misinformation about the risks of the vaccines. And think back to your own teen years: Chances are, you were less than proactive when it came to your own health (take time away from hanging out with friends to get a shot, then potentially stay in bed fighting off side effects? Many teens wouldn't jump at this prospect).

But for better or worse, teens and young people are heavily influenced by the celebrities they idolize. Seeing someone like Rodrigo, a superstar of the demographic, has huge power to mobilize that group. And if getting young people vaccinated is so key in our goal of achieving herd immunity against COVID, well Rodrigo may have just, quite literally, saved countless lives.

Of course, not all teens need to be convinced to be vaccinated, and many who were already on board are praising Rodrigo's important (and potentially divisive, if we're being honest) move. After Rodrigo posted a photo of herself alongside President Biden on Instagram, musician Josh Cumbee wrote: "There's a huge diff between having a platform and using that platform to elevate the greater good... this is the latter and I'm proud AF."

As a mom of toddlers, I am admittedly not super connected to the demographic Rodrigo is trying to inspire here. But according to 19-year-old Emma Sprague, who is a fan of Rodrigo's, it's "really nice and exciting" to see the star encourage young kids to get vaccinated. Simon Mitchell, also 19, agrees that it's cool to see a star like Rodrigo take this stance. "She's such a huge influence on a lot of our generation with her music, so hopefully she can help spread the message of the importance of being vaxxed!" Mitchell says.

As someone who was once a teenager, I imagine it's also pretty validating for these teens to see someone their own age being given a platform that's so often off-limits to young people. They're smarter, savvier, and more conscious than we give them credit for. And right now they have the power to leverage social influence and a simple medical choice (with consent from their parents, depending on their age) to improve very real public health outcomes.

Yet not everyone is on board Rodrigo's message or the concept of using a celebrity for what is essentially a public health campaign. But my take? What Rodrigo did is so important and it could help us make some seriously significant headway in our pursuit of ending this pandemic. So good 4 u, Olivia Rodrigo. Keep using your voice—musically and otherwise.