‘Selfish’ generation is the exact opposite

They’re branded as “self-indulgent” but this generation has stepped up in a way that shows that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s been a tough year and a half for young Australians.

Some of us have lost our jobs. Some of us have had to graduate high school from our living rooms. Some of us have been separated from our families without knowing when we will be reunited once more.

While I do not downplay the privilege we hold in having our physical health protected by Australia’s public health measures, it is no secret that this has come with a significant mental cost. What was meant to be some of the ‘best years of our lives’ have been replaced with an ongoing uncertainty over what tomorrow will bring.

Throughout this pandemic, we have been painted as an irresponsible and selfish generation. Isolated instances of illegal gatherings have been used by those in power to shift the blame of their own systemic failures. This included an out of touch, and frankly anxiety-inducing, television ad released by our federal government a few months ago; encouraging a generation that was not yet eligible for either vaccine to ‘do their part’ and get the jab.

This depiction of a self-indulgent and apathetic generation could not be further from the truth. Early on Wednesday morning, the Victorian government’s vaccination website crashed from demand, after those aged 16 to 39 finally became eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

Thousands of young people flocked the site at 7am on the dot. We’re the generation in line for vaccine appointments instead of concert tickets.

Ellie-Rose Rogers, 22, originally from Perth, spent over six hours in the queue: “I logged on at 7.30am and have spent the entire day refreshing the page to try and get an appointment. I would like to be fully vaccinated before another strain emerges and more vulnerable people get the disease.” said Ellie.

This is but one example of how young people have shown up. In the light of government failures, many of us even opted to take the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine, despite ATAGI’s then recommendation.

Kristi Young, a law student based in Melbourne, explains her decision to take the early jab. “It has been so frustrating watching my friends and family overseas receive vaccinations months ago, and I just couldn’t here in Australia,” said Kristi.

“I was in a bit of disbelief that those in the generation above me didn’t seem to want the vaccine, after all we have done to protect them and others who are vulnerable with constant lockdowns.

“When AZ became available to people in my age group, a friend and I went to four different vaccine sites trying to get the jab, we called over 20 GPs and hospitals trying to get an appointment. We just wanted to get it done; eventually we found a GP who had a cancellation and got us in.”

Many of us have expressed frustrations over the relatively slow rates of vaccination in older people, who have been eligible for some time. Failures by authorities to account for cultural sensitivities and widespread misinformation have continued to plague the vaccine uptake.

Jahin Tanvir, a youth advocate based in Sydney, believes that young people can play an active role in convincing our older loved ones to get vaccinated:

“I feel responsible for ensuring that I do my part in protecting more vulnerable members of my community and raising awareness that is backed by research,” he said.

“I convinced my parents to get vaccinated by emphasising the urgency of the Covid vaccine and debunking the misinformation that may have led to their hesitation. I managed to find effective culturally tailored and culturally specific information that reinforced the need for vaccines.”

Jahin is one of many young people who are advocating for greater youth participation in our pandemic recovery. A coalition of youth organisations, alongside former prime minister Kevin Rudd, recently brought together young people from across our region to highlight why we must be at decision-making tables.

So, to all young people out there, this is my love letter to you. You are far from irresponsible. You are stepping up when your communities have needed you the most. In time, I hope other generations will equally stand up for us; and help us create a better future for all.

Thenu Herath is the CEO of Oaktree, an international development agency that supports youth empowerment projects across Australia and the Asia-Pacific.

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