Why I Won't Be Easing Up My Family's COVID-19 Precautions Even Though I'm Fully Vaccinated

by Brittany Chirico
A baby diagnosed with viral meningitis resting on her fully vaccinated mother's chest
Courtesy of Brittany Chirico

Every day I think about the time I had to call an ambulance for my 10-month-old daughter in the middle of the night and then watch her tiny body writhe in a seizure on the oversized stretcher in the emergency room for two hours. Not knowing what was wrong, or if she was going to be OK, and crying as the doctors pulled the curtain back to give her a spinal tap and inject her with dose after dose of barbiturates hoping to stop whatever was causing her seizure.

She was in the hospital for eight days and on day five, the spinal tap results revealed she had viral meningitis, likely caught from a cold sore I’d had on my lip a few weeks prior. The pediatricians had only ever seen that happen in much younger babies. In other words, what happened to her was extremely rare. She had an MRI to make sure the virus didn’t spread to her brain, and it hadn’t. She was able to make a full recovery with no long term effects, and three years later, I still look at her in awe and thankful amazement.

What does this have to do with COVID-19? Because that experience is, and will be for a long time to come, at the front of my brain every single day. When I hear the words “unlikely” or “not statistically high” for one of my children to contract a life-altering case of COVID-19, what I hear is that it IS possible. If one of my children somehow contracts COVID-19 there IS a chance that they will experience long term or life-threatening impacts. My mind drifts to those thousands of parents who no longer have their children because of the virus, and how it doesn’t matter that the chances of it happening to them were “low” or “slim.” Because that’s the thing: statistics don’t matter when something terrible happens to your child.

Courtesy of Brittany Chirico

I became pregnant with my third child in January of 2020, blissfully unaware of what the rest of the year would bring. Mix regular old postpartum hormones and anxiety with a potentially deadly global virus, and here I am with three kids taking COVID-19 precautions to an admittedly extreme level. My 6-year-old does remote schooling. We only see immediate family members if we are all wearing masks, preferably outdoors. We’ve only just begun indoor visits allowing our 8-month-old’s grandparents to hold him.

I’m a rational person and I understand that life itself is a balance of risks and rewards. Risk is an unavoidable part of life, because you never know what might happen from one minute to the next. But I also understand that we are in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis. The virus might seem far removed for certain lucky groups of people, and others may be experiencing burnout from all of the masking, sanitizing and social distancing over the past year, but millions of people have died and the pandemic is not over. The scariest thing about being a parent for me is being the protector. The force that stands between my kids and the dangers of the world, knowing that a decision I make on their behalf could potentially have dangerous consequences.

Courtesy of Brittany Chirico

Before I had experienced it myself, it was easy to gloss over the details of theoretically imagining having a sick, hospitalized child. But to me now, the small details are the ONLY thing I imagine when I think back to that time. What it was like watching my baby be sedated and go into the loud, crashing MRI tunnel. Guarding her tiny arm 24 hours a day so her IV wouldn’t rip out again and have to be painfully reinserted as I restrained her thrashing, screaming body. Watching a team of nurses hold her down and insert an IV into her scalp because the veins in her arms and legs and everywhere else they tried were too difficult to get a needle into. What it was like really, truly thinking I was going to lose her. It’s a dark place in life that I never want to visit again.

So, even though my husband and I are fully vaccinated, as is most of our extended family, we will continue to take the same precautions that we’ve been taking over the past year. Until it is proven that vaccinated people can’t asymptomatically spread COVID-19 to unvaccinated children, I won’t let my guard down. This alienates us from friends and even some close family members, but to me, none of this is a choice. I’m always going to choose the side of the story that keeps my children the safest. Some day, this WILL be all over. As parents, my husband and I are the captains of our ship, and we are trying to sail it to the other side of this storm with our kids unscathed.