Opinion | Please Vaccinate Your Teenager to Protect My 4-Year-Old


By Wajahat Ali

Mr. Ali is a columnist at The Daily Beast and the author of the forthcoming book “Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American.”

You and your kids could help protect my 4-year-old daughter’s life.

Nusayba was found to have a rare cancer at the age of 2. Since then, she has endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a liver transplant. Fortunately, she has been cancer-free for over a year now. Her cheeks have filled out, her bouncy, thick curls are growing back, and we can’t help indulging her love of cinnamon rolls and Dippin’ Dots.

The best news my family has heard since Nusayba was declared cancer-free is that the F.D.A. has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds. Pfizer has announced it is seeking clearance for a vaccine for kids aged 2 to 11 by September. This should give all of us hope, because scientists are saying that vaccinating children is critical to bringing down hospitalization and deaths, and getting us closer to herd immunity.

I just hope parents take advantage of this development and arrange for their kids to get the shots. Unfortunately, according to recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, only about 29 percent of parents of children under age 18 say they will get their child vaccinated “right away,” as soon as the child is eligible.

That matters to me because, like others around the world with suppressed immune systems, Nusayba is at a much higher risk of dying if she contracts Covid-19. One small study found that those who are immuno-compromised and become infected, including some people who have been treated for cancer, as Nusayba has, have death rates as high as 55 percent.

Even though my wife and I are fully vaccinated, we still haven’t returned to “normal” the way many of our peers have. We have to be vigilant to keep Nusayba safe. We avoid crowded playgrounds, we said no to most Ramadan and Eid social events, and we continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Living with this kind of risk, even as we celebrate our little girl’s survival, has taken a toll. For example, we were planning to send her to elementary school for the first time this fall. But the constant fear runs through our minds: What happens if she’s eating snacks in the indoor cafeteria and a child who is infected coughs near her? What happens if she’s drawing pictures of My Little Pony next to her unvaccinated classmates and the masks of some of the kids slip down under their noses and one of those kids is infected?

All of a sudden this brave girl who endured and survived Stage 4 cancer could be fighting for her life again.

The risk is real. You might be done with the coronavirus, but the virus isn’t done with our children, who account for 24 percent of new U.S. coronavirus cases. That’s why I’ve been praying every day for the F.D.A. to authorize coronavirus vaccines for young children. But even then, I know that kids like Nusayba might not produce antibodies after receiving it.

Science tells us the vaccines are safe for adults and kids 12 and older, and we know they won’t be approved for younger children unless experts determine they’re safe for them, too. Still, I do have empathy for parents who are cautious about vaccinating their children. Trust me, I understand feeling protective of a child’s health. Over the past two years, every day, my wife and I have had to be vigilant and monitor Nusayba’s lifesaving medications, which she takes twice a day. These medications are her best chance at a normal life, but they also have potential side effects and adverse outcomes.

In 2019, I wrote about the rise of vaccine hesitancy in America. Back then, my wife, who is a doctor, said when she approaches patients who are vaccine hesitant with compassion, understanding and lack of judgment, she has been able to persuade some to change their minds and trust the science. So I have to believe that some well-intentioned individuals who remain skeptical about vaccines — for themselves and for their kids — might be open to looking past the abundant disinformation and lies that surround vaccines and reconsider their positions.

The reality is that parents’ hesitancy about vaccinating their children and teenagers will harm all of us. That’s why it’s so disturbing to hear people like Joe Rogan telling young people they don’t need vaccines (though he eventually told his audience not to take his health advice seriously). In fact, young people remain at risk for severe health problems if infected, and kids can still transmit the virus to others.

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson urged his viewers to “call the police” if they saw kids wearing masks outside, comparing mask-wearing to child abuse. You know what really seems like child abuse, especially for parents like me who are so worried about our vulnerable kids? Ignoring science, medical experts and basic safety precautions to fuel a self-destructive culture war during a deadly pandemic.

Please get vaccinated. Please get your kids vaccinated when they are eligible. Please wear a mask when in close quarters or crowds and make your children do the same. By taking these simple precautions, you will not only protect yourself and your loved ones, but you’ll also help protect vulnerable children like mine. We just need enough people to care and take all of the proper precautions, so kids like Nusayba can have a chance to live a full and healthy life.

Wajahat Ali is a columnist at The Daily Beast and the author of the forthcoming book “Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American.”

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