Opinion: What anti-vaccines look like to me

Cornered, I chose to accept the risks of Covid-19, considered relatively low for young children. I have reviewed school safety protocols and consulted with my son’s pediatrician and neurologist as he has epilepsy. That afternoon, I was getting ready to give a presentation via Zoom when his school called. My son was throwing up. Given his underlying condition, I picked him up and took him straight to the emergency room.
At the hospital, the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so we were admitted. Two days later, no closer to a diagnosis, they informed us that he was in septic shock. My son’s organ systems started to fall apart like dominoes: liver, kidneys, heart, lungs. He had rashes, fever, dizzying inflammatory markers. I’m not a doctor, but the course of his illness was strangely similar to what I had read on MSI-C or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. And although the virus was circulating widely in our community at the time, my son tested negative for Covid-19 – twice.

The days in the pediatric intensive care unit were passing. The monitors beeped, the nurses changed shifts, the assistants made their rounds and the babies cried. My son was tied up with his arms shackled as he was intubated like many seriously ill Covid-19 people. He was taking high doses of fentanyl and barbiturates. He had tubes and centerlines that snaked around every inch of his tiny body. The nights came and went. We weren’t any closer to a diagnosis but in my gut I thought it was MSI-C.

Then somehow, four weeks to the day after we entered the hospital, we walked out together. No diagnosis. No explanation as to why he had to be intubated twice, why he was put on a liver transplant list, why his heart failed and why he almost needed dialysis. Somehow the universe, the prayers, the expert medical care, and his warrior spirit got him through. Then, six months after that nightmare, his team of doctors admitted that in hindsight, the only plausible explanation for his near-death experience was MSI-C, likely caused by an asymptomatic or mild case of Covid-19.

Children under 12, including my son, cannot protect themselves from the coronavirus. They cannot get vaccinated against Covid-19, which is still the subject of clinical trials for young children. They cannot properly weigh the risks against the benefits. But as adults, we have an individual and collective responsibility to do everything possible to mitigate their risks. Until young children can be vaccinated, the best way to protect them – and ourselves – is to vaccinate as many eligible people as possible and to maintain public health measures like masking, hand washing and social distancing. We have already asked young schoolchildren to take one for the team by staying at home and learning remotely for over a year. Isn’t it time to live up to our part of the collective agreement by literally rolling up our sleeves and getting shots?

Vaccination rate vary across the country and in most states, blacks and Hispanics have received smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of Covid-19 cases, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report Last week. I wrote about the concerns that Blacks and Indigenous people, as well as other people of color (BIPOC) have more vaccines, and how they should be taken seriously. This mistrust is not unfounded; my academic training and personal experience tell me that BIPOC is not doing well in predominantly white health facilities. Racial inequalities in health are also by for the course.
Given the reality of Covid-19 and the growing threat of the Delta variant, perhaps BIPOC should weigh the health benefits of vaccines – and see it as a way to stay out of hospitals and practices. doctors who fail them so often. Getting vaccinated against preventable diseases is one way to ensure that all people, especially BIPOC, avoid healthcare encounters where implicit and explicit bias lead to worse health outcomes.
it doesn’t help that much Republicans stoke vaccine skepticism and frank hostility. The Delta variant is already spreading rapidly Across the country. Many of those who choose to forgo the photo may pretend they are making a personal decision. But the continued spread of Covid-19 affects us all. And the truth is, the virus doesn’t care about so-called individual freedoms. It simply infects any host it can find, Republican or Democrat, young or old, disabled, immunocompromised and anti-vaccine.

On the contrary, staying unvaccinated by choice – and not because of lack of access or contraindicated health conditions – seems to me more like shirking individual responsibility than exercising an individual right.

I almost lost my son last year. And more than 600,000 Americans and 4 million people worldwide lost their lives as a result of this pandemic. Enough is enough. Roll up your sleeve. Get the hang of it. Do your part to protect yourself and each other.

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About Linda Stewart

Linda Stewart

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