By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.
Dear Dr. Debbie,
I was appalled to find out that a responsible young adult who, prior to the pandemic, often babysat for us is choosing not to get vaccinated. We saw her at an outdoor neighborhood event a few weeks ago when the mask mandate had been lifted. The children were thrilled to see her after more than a year apart. How do I explain to my children, who love her dearly, that we will not be using her services in the future unless she gets vaccinated?
Distancing From the Delta Variant
The Covid-19 Epidemic rages on. Things were looking good in June with vaccines freely available for ages 12 and up all across the country. School districts were discussing how, not whether, students would be safely schooled in classrooms after summer break. Sadly, the USA is only in 7th place among countries who are getting people vaccinated in a race against time as the virus mutates and becomes more deadly.
By now your children have had an explanation for schooling at home, wearing facemasks in public, and other efforts to keep germs from spreading from person to person. Since germs are invisible, except under a microscope, your children follow the precautions that you enforce on blind faith. They trust that you know what you’re talking about because there are things that you tell them about that they CAN see, such as the rain outside when you announce that a planned outdoor activity is cancelled. Perhaps your children’s beloved sitter hasn’t been guided by someone she trusts to get her free vaccine.
Since the current epidemic affected older people the worst, with high infection rates and high death rates, the first vaccines were tested for and made available to the elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those aged 65 to 74 have been vaccinated at a rate of 80.9%. Interestingly, this may reflect an attitude of trust among this age group toward medical science and public health authorities, but perhaps it is also due to their personal experience with having had or having known someone who had polio. Personal knowledge of this devastating disease that largely affected young children may have influenced an eager response to getting free inoculations. (Older adults would certainly have known of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, confined to a wheelchair since catching polio in his late 30’s, as a very public example.)
The next age group, 50 to 64 years old, at 66% fully vaccinated, probably didn’t experience polio firsthand, but were among the children herded by their parents to line up for needles, and later, sugar cubes, to be inoculated against polio. Parents were eager to protect their children from paralysis or death, since they were old enough to have known someone hit by polio.
History, or lack thereof, may explain why today’s younger adults have been less eager to receive Covid-19 vaccinations. They probably got the standard immunizations early in life, with little fanfare and no recollection of it. With a disappointing rate of only 41.8% of 18 to 24-year-olds taking advantage of free protection against Covid-19, this age group is too young to have personal experience with a community-wide public health strategy like lining all the children up for polio vaccines. Remember the push and the resistance to ban indoor smoking? (Maryland’s mandate was in 2008). They don’t. And they’re too old to be under the direct control of a parent to assure their protection. Is this the situation for your sitter?
Young adults, to their detriment at times, live in a peer-dominated headspace. Fashion, life goals, and health risks, among other decisions, tend to be heavily influenced by their group of friends. “I’m not doing it. Are you doing it?” shapes the behavior of the group until the one maverick among them (maybe someone with a doctor in the family, or a death by Covid in the family) steps up to do the sensible thing. Sadly, it may take personal experience with the highly transmissible delta variant, perhaps with a close friend or an idolized public figure, for a young adult to realize the danger.
Maybe there will be motivation among young adults to get vaccinated as colleges, air travel, concert venues, and their employers require it of them. If you think of it like getting a driver’s license – learning all those rules and passing the test are a bit of a hassle, but necessary for everyone’s safety on the road. It’s looking like that’s the direction we’re headed with vaccines.
Explain to your children that Covid-19 is still around. The vaccine can help make it go away, but not until enough people get vaccinated. (If you think it appropriate, maybe they could appeal to the sitter to get vaccinated!) Assure the children that you will continue to do the best that you can to keep them healthy, including taking them for their vaccines when the time comes.
You will also use what you know about Covid-19 to make good decisions about babysitters.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.
Dr. Wood is presenting a workshop for parents and childcare professionals – Stress With Children – on Saturday, August 7, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm at the museum. Weather permitting, the workshop will be held outside. Zoom attendance is an option. Advance registration is required.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.