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Unvaxxed, Unmasked and Putting our Children in Danger

Unvaxxed, Unmasked and Putting our Children in Danger

Tuesday, 3 August, 2021 - 06:30

For days now, vaccinated Americans have been trying to come to terms with new advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the rapidly spreading Delta variant and a spike in Covid cases in states with high populations of unvaccinated people. Authorities have encouraged everyone in high-risk areas to resume wearing masks in indoor public spaces and have recommended that all teachers and students wear masks in schools.

It’s hard not to be angry with the irresponsible behavior of those who brought us here. For parents of children with health problems or too young to get the vaccine (or both), it’s doubly infuriating.

My daughter, Layla, was born three months earlier due to a life-threatening condition called HELLP syndrome that I developed during pregnancy. She weighed only two pounds at birth. She spent the first months of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit and her first years being transported to and from emergency rooms and specialists because her lungs had not had a chance to fully develop.

I saw my child being intubated. I’ve had her turn blue in my arms – more than once. I saw nurses revive her.

While some parents worried about getting enough sleep or changing diapers, I wondered when Layla’s central IV catheter would be removed or if she would be able to digest the milk they were giving her through the feeding tube in her nose. Being able to take your health for granted is a privilege.

As I watched the Delta variant spread, I thought back to Layla’s early years and my lingering uncertainty about her continued health. I am not alone. There are currently parents across the country who are terrified that their sick children will contract Covid-19 and a cascade of diseases will catch up with them.

It is not a fear that never goes away completely, even if or when your child recovers. When you have seen your critically ill child, there is a part of your brain that believes he or she can be taken from you at any time, because you almost saw him or her coming.

My family lives in New York City, where over 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose and over 65 percent are fully immunized. But we plan to follow the updated recommendations as if we are in a high risk condition. We will do this not only because of the city’s extreme density and our personal history, but also because we care about our community and the health of our neighbors.

Looking at the statistics on how many people are intentionally unvaccinated – or refusing to wear masks, even in risky situations – it’s obvious not everyone is so conscientious.

It’s true that the reasons why so many Americans still aren’t vaccinated – even as we’re seeing more and more hospitalizations without protection – are countless. Some have fallen prey to misinformation or conspiracy theories, some still don’t realize the vaccine is free and often available at their local pharmacy, and others’ trust in authority has been eroded by institutional failure. But while some Americans are unvaccinated or unmasked due to access issues, the majority of unvaccinated make a choice.

When I listen to the contempt for the Covid vaccine from those who are not yet convinced, I think of the hours I spent on the phone begging our insurance company to cover a vaccine that would prevent Layla from catching RSV, a virus that can be fatal in premature babies. The insurer refused, and we could not pay the out-of-pocket expenses. (Layla ended up in the hospital after contracting it.)

Today, Layla is in good health. But I’ll never know what long-term impact her lung development had on her, and we have no idea what a Covid infection could do to a child who needed machines to breathe. The same goes for children with other underlying health conditions like asthma or those who are immunocompromised. And while the rate of children in hospital or dying is low, the numbers mean nothing if your child is behind the statistic.

What I do know is this: I am furious that the physical and mental health of countless American children is at the mercy of those who willfully ignore and irrationally fearful. It’s infuriating to hear people complain that wearing a mask or being vaccinated is a violation of their freedom when children who have no choice pay the price for their nonsense.

Most of all, I’m sick of hearing that my anger won’t change hearts and minds, or that I have to respect other people’s choices, even when those choices put the health and lives of others at risk.

This is not a simple matter of disagreement or bipartisan bickering: crass egoism masked by American individualism is killing our country and traumatizing our children. It is not “intolerant” or overreacting; it is a fact.

Anger is the least we can do.

The truth is that all of our children, regardless of their health, are in pain.

After all, my daughter isn’t thinking about her lungs right now. She just wants to go to birthday parties again. She wants to go to school without the plexiglass blocking her view of the blackboard and being able to have lunch in the cafeteria instead of quietly in her classroom. She wants to take off her mask – she would like to see the faces of her friends again.

Those who have the capacity to be vaccinated and masked have no reasonable excuse not to be. Either you are someone who cares about their neighbors and their community, or you are not. Either you are ready to sacrifice yourself for the good of others, or you are not. And you shouldn’t have to think about sick children to get people to do the right thing.

A few months ago, a mother I didn’t know started chatting with me while our kids were playing nearby. After a few jokes, she asked me if I was vaccinated – a question I assumed she had asked because I was standing a few feet away from her. It turns out, however, that she wanted to let off steam that she would never have left the vaccine “within a hundred feet” of her family. “Were in good health,” she scoffed.

How lucky for her.

The New York Times

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