Like so many of us, these past few months have finally brought some hope to me. The COVID vaccines we have are truly incredible, and the speed with which they are being put into arms is very reassuring. After a year of pandemic stress and despair, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s a damn relief.
I’ll never forget the tears of joy I shed when my mom and my husband got their first vaccines back in February. I hadn’t realized the level of fear that I’d been living with for almost a year. The idea that I wouldn’t lose my mom, and that my kids wouldn’t lose their dad—that relief was enormous. I could feel it in my bones.
I just got my second vaccine a week ago, and within a week, I will be fully vaccinated. I cannot tell you the level of relief I feel knowing that my kids will not lose their mom to COVID. I am a healthy 40-year-old, but I know that COVID doesn’t care how young or healthy you are. Like many people, I have spent many sleepless nights this year imagining what would happen if my kids had to spend the rest of their lives without me.
So yeah. I am celebrating the hell out of these vaccines. I love science, and I am so grateful that it is going to get us out of this disaster.
When I read news stories about how this summer is going to be the summer when all of us start to live our best post-pandemic lives, I shudder. When I see people talking about all the many amazing things they can do now that they are vaccines—eating in restaurants, going to concerts, traveling to exotic locations—I feel a deep sense of FOMO.
When I see hoards of kids gathering face to face without masks on social media, I think, “What the heck is happening? Why are parents acting as though COVID is over?”
You might be asking the same of me. Why am I still acting as though it’s March 2020?
Well, because I have two kids—both of whom have asthma triggered by respiratory viruses—who can’t get the vaccine yet. And so, our family’s behavior won’t really change now that my husband and I are vaccinated.
Sure, my kids will get to see their vaccinated grandparents over the next few months–and I don’t take for granted how wonderful that will be. We are planning to take a pandemic-safe vacation (driving, staying at a rental house, ordering takeout, staying away from crowds, etc.) this summer, too, which I’m very much looking forward to.
But my kids aren’t going to be going to Disney this summer. They’re not going to be going to sleepaway camp. They’re not going to have indoor playdates.
We have been basically locked down since this pandemic started, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
But kids are so much less susceptible to COVID than adults, right? If I’m vaccinated and protected, why can’t I let my kids do more? Well, as I said, my kids have an underlying condition (asthma), which the CDC lists as a condition that can make COVID outcomes worse for kids and teens.
Even without an underlying condition, I would continue to be careful with my kids until they can be vaccinated. Yes, kids are less likely to die from COVID than adults, but COVID is actually more deadly to our kids than the flu is during a typical flu season. As Dr. Leana Wen writes in the Washington Post, “As of April 22, based on data from 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico and Guam, 296 children have died of covid-19; in comparison, annual pediatric deaths from influenza have ranged from 35 to 186 in recent years.”
Not only that, but there is plenty of evidence that children can become long haulers. Kids who are long haulers have months of weakness, brain fog – some even have trouble breathing and performing everyday tasks. That’s a big deal. Why would I want to risk that for my kids?
And let’s not forget about MIS-C, an inflammatory syndrome linked to COVID that sends kids to the ICU. MIS-C can lead to organ damage and even death. No one is sure how long that damage will last. That’s terrifying.
COVID is not a “mild” virus for kids. Imagine if there was a polio outbreak in your community, and your kid hadn’t been vaccinated. Imagine if there was a measles outbreak—bigger than any of the small outbreaks we’ve seen the past few years–and your kid hadn’t received their measles vaccine. COVID is the one of the most serious viruses our kids might ever encounter—and at this point, COVID is still running rampant through our country.
Just yesterday, almost 50,000 people were newly diagnosed with COVID in America. Over the past month, despite the rest of the country plummeting, Michigan has a huge spike in COVID cases, many among school children. Medically vulnerable children like mine are being hospitalized, but even healthy children are being hospitalized in alarming numbers.
Now that huge swaths of adults are getting vaccinated, many are saying that COVID will become a childhood illness, spread mostly among kids, and it looks like that’s what we are seeing more and more. That’s not something I want my kids to be part of, if I can help it.
My vaccinated self won’t protect my kids if they go hang out with another kid who unknowingly has COVID. My vaccine isn’t going to protect my kid at a germ-infested amusement park. We’ll be skipping that stuff for now. No thanks.
I am hopeful that our overall rates of COVID will continue to plummet in America as more and more adults are vaccinated. I hope that this summer will feel freer for my kids in certain ways. I think it will be so great that they will be able to hang out with vaccinated grandparents (though we are still going to be careful in that regard and make sure their grandparents are still being cautious, because breakthrough infections are possible). I will be trying to find more masked outside activities for my kids, and will consider some masked, outdoor playdates.
I am crossing my fingers and toes that I will feel comfortable sending my kids to school in the fall if our community’s COVID numbers are very low and our school is still strict with masks and ventilation. My kids were fully remote this year, because case numbers were too high for my comfort level.
But there is no way I’m going to take any chances with my kids getting this virus until we have either reached a high level of herd immunity or it becomes my kids turn to get a shot. So that means that although there is a lot to celebrate in terms of progress, this summer isn’t going to be a summer of carefree celebration for my family.
We’re not going to ditch the masks and live as though it’s 2019. We’re going to stay the course until this thing is over and my kids are protected.
I know that not everyone can be as quarantined as our family continues to be. Some people need to send their kids to school and childcare. Many of those things can be done in low risks ways, and I do understand that (though “low risk” doesn’t mean “no risk,” which is why I haven’t felt comfortable doing those things).
At the same time, I see too many parents throwing caution to the wind lately, and it stresses me out. The mentality that life is going back to normal now that grownups are vaccinated is dangerous thinking. Our unvaccinated kids can become sick, sometimes very sick. And even if that’s not a worry for you, your kid can still spread this virus to others. Your kid can spread the virus to a medically vulnerable child like mine, to an adult who is immunocompromised and who can’t produce robust antibodies in response to the vaccine, or to someone who hasn’t had a chance to get the vaccine yet. Those folks could become seriously ill, they could die, or they could become COVID long-haulers. I do not want to play a role in that.
The CDC still recommends against unmasked activities for unvaccinated people, and that includes kids. So please, by all means, celebrate your vaccine status, but please continue to be careful with your kids. This pandemic is not over yet, and we still need to pay attention and act with common sense and compassion.
And if you are like me—vaccinated, but till protecting your kids like it’s March 2020—you are not weird. You are not “overreacting.” And you are not alone.