They’re unvaccinated. So is your immunocompromised child. What do you do?
Jul 02, 2021
Not many people know more about how to approach talking to friends and family about being vaccinated than Riki. She’s a physician liaison for the liver team at Houston Methodist Hospital and a pro-vaccine advocate. But most importantly, she’s a heart mom.
Riki’s daughter, Juliana, was born in heart failure with a severe congenital heart defect. At only 17 days old, Juliana had a heart transplant. Today, 7-year-old Juliana is doing great, but her family worries that getting seriously sick could lead her body to reject her new heart. With COVID-19, her family has to be extra careful to keep Juliana at a distance from those who haven’t been vaccinated.
Unfortunately, many families in similar situations have to ask friends and family members if they’ve been immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases, including COVID-19, before they make the decision to let their child visit with them. And it isn’t always easy. If that’s you, here’s what can be helpful to keep in mind.
Is it even OK to ask someone if they (or their children) have been vaccinated?
Getting vaccinated is an individual decision. But when it comes to having an immunocompromised child, not knowing whether your child is encountering unvaccinated people who could be sick can cause fear and anxiety, especially for parents like Riki.
So while it can be uncomfortable, it is OK to ask someone if they’re vaccinated — so long as you’re prepared to respect their answer (or no answer at all) and protect their privacy.
Before you ask, there are a few things that might help:
- Check social media. If you’re asking about the COVID-19 vaccine, you might be able to find that information on their social media account. If your friend or family member is active on social media and has gotten their vaccine, chances are you may find an “I got my COVID-19 vaccine” photo that will give you the answer you’re looking for!
- Jot down your reason for asking in the first place. Like Riki, do you have a young or immunocompromised child at home who needs to be protected? Think about all of the reasons why it is so important that your child be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.
- Prepare for possible answers ahead of time. That way, you aren’t flustered with a potential “no.”
If someone responds with, “yes, we are vaccinated,” then believe them.
People who hear your reasoning for wanting to keep your child safe will most likely be honest with their answer. Asking to see a vaccination card is hardly saying, “I trust you.” If you need proof, then you might need to re-assess the relationship.
If someone says they’re not vaccinated or doesn’t respond, consider the pros and cons.
Riki says that when she hears a “no,” then it comes down to risk versus benefit to her child. How likely is it that your child will get sick from the unvaccinated individual? How important is the interaction or event? Is there a way you can still be around them while lowering the risk — such as being masked, distanced, and/or outdoors?
Have you read:
- From Avoiding Vaccines to Getting A Child Caught Up: Where To Start?
- Collective Responsibility: The Importance of Protecting Others through Vaccination
You can’t make someone get vaccinated.
People have the right to make their own health decisions, including whether or not to vaccinate. So while you can kindly request that they be vaccinated before seeing your child, it’s ultimately their decision to make. You can, however, point them in the direction of accurate and reputable information on vaccinations.
Here are some places to start:
- Vaccinate Your Family: Why Vaccinate?
- CDC: Vaccines for Your Children
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center
- HealthyChildren.org: Immunizations
Riki’s advice is to let your loved one know that you really hope that they choose to get vaccinated so that they don’t get sick or end up in the hospital. She also advises you to let them know that by getting vaccinated you are also helping to protect your child and other children who need to be protected.
Ultimately, YOU decide who comes around your child.
As a parent, you have a duty to protect your children. You are not being “mean” by putting your child’s health first. If you’d like your child to still have a relationship with someone unwilling to get vaccinated or to vaccinate their child, you can let them know that you will need to take more precautions and would like to be able to come to a resolution together. You may want to continue using precautions like masks, social distancing, and visiting outdoors. Another option is to visit over a virtual platform––we have so many great ways to see people that don’t involve direct contact!
Don’t give up on those you love.
You may feel defeated when a loved one decides not to vaccinate, and it may feel as if he or she doesn’t care about your child. Letting go of that person is OK, and holding on to them is OK, too. Be compassionate; point them in the direction of the best information. And let them know you care about them. There’s a chance they may surprise you by changing their mind someday.
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