Help! My Toddler is an Anti-Vaxxer!

I have always thought myself to be a modern, educated and level-headed person. I am liberal and have surrounded myself with like-minded people to make sure my family has the right influences. I am a firm believer in science, especially medical science. When Covid hit, I was as scared as anyone. We locked down and didn’t leave the house for anything! When it was time to venture out I always wore my mask, even when they lifted requirements. When it was my turn to get the vaccine, I went to the hospital to get it the first day I could. My son, Charlie Chickadee (CC for short), however, is a different story. He’s told me in no uncertain terms that he will never get this or any other vaccine. I’m worried that at the ripe age of three, my child has already become an anti-vaxxer!

It seems so shocking to me, but I should have seen the writing on the wall. CC used to push back against the masks. Whenever we were at the playground, he’d take the mask off and throw it on the ground defiantly, sometimes stomping on it. At first I thought it was just him, being difficult, but I read some articles online and posted on some Facebook groups for advise and realized that maybe he just didn’t understand the science. I had a little heart to heart with him and did what everyone suggested I do: I showed him statistical evidence that the science worked and that masking helps reduce transmission. Numbers can’t lie, not even to toddlers! I know he wasn’t in the vulnerable population, but I reinforced to him that he could save the life of someone who was, like his Gaga or Peepaw. He still fought it, though. I think the CDC changing it’s messaging so often really eroded his confidence in the public health information and started to make him question everything. I really wish they could get their act together. Normally I wouldn’t care that much about him not wearing a mask at an outdoor playground, but not only does CC suck his thumb, he sometimes sucks other children’s thumbs! While sucking another person’s thumb isn’t explicitly on the CDC’s graphic about high risk behaviors for unvaccinated individuals, I think it should be.

So, CC wouldn’t wear his mask, but I learned to live with it. As we found out more about outdoor transmission, I realized that while not ideal, it was still fairly low risk. What I was more concerned about was everyone knowing I was raising an anti-masker. I was also concerned about where he was getting his news from. I know that parents need to be vigilant about protecting their children from misinformation campaigns and fake news, but I thought I that started much later. Whoever did it must have also told him to keep everything hush-hush, because whenever I’d ask him why he didn’t want to wear a mask he’d just say “masks are stupid”. When I’d ask him where he got that idea, he’d just say “Batman”. I looked at his Batman comics and watched some shows and I never saw him once say masks are stupid. Batman even wears a mask! “Batman” must be some sort of codename or something. Or maybe it was on the dark web, but I wasn’t about to venture there and get brainwashed myself.

So, March rolls around and I read the great news that some vaccines have emergency FDA approval. Excitedly, I told my wife, Jessica, and CC that there’s a new vaccine. We all started crying what I assumed were tears of joy. It turns out that was true for me and Jessica, but, in hindsight, not for CC. When he started asking about whether there was a vaccine for him, I figured he was eager to get it. “No,” I told him, “but that’s a great question. The vaccine’s emergency approval is only for adults, but hopefully your time will come soon.” A few weeks later, when it was our turn (we had to wait, because apparently College Advisors aren’t “essential workers”, even though I beg to differ!) we went to the hospital to get our jabs. We even brought CC with us so he could see how safe it was. He sure had a lot of questions. “Will it hurt?” and “Will it turn me into Batman?” and “They don’t make it for kids still, right?” and “Can I still have a lollipop if I don’t get a backsteen(sic)?” 

I assumed that was my little junior scientist being curious, but it turns out it should have been a red flag. Apparently all of these “anti-vaxxers” trust their own, anecdotal research as opposed to what the experts and the CDC say. They go in with their minds made up about reality and then pick and choose the information that shapes reality to whatever they desire, whether it comes from Dr. Anthony Fauci, or Snotty Steve from the playground or “Batman”. Anyway, we got our shots and CC saw that nothing bad happened. Well, I guess he did see both of his supposedly strong and healthy parents incapacitated for three days… and watch me go into an extremely statistically rare case of anaphylactic shock. Aside from those little hiccups there was nothing to be afraid of, though. 

After we recovered from our jabs, Jessica and I discussed it and thought it was important to talk to CC about the experience and get ahead of any misinformation so that, when it’s his turn, he’s ready for his shot. We knew that they had been running trials on younger individuals. First, we read up on the best way to handle a discussion with a loved one who is anti-vax. We went in ready to discuss the vaccine approval process (fast-tracked for efficiency, not rushed), his privilege (he doesn’t need to go work in-person, but bears a responsibility for those who do) and how vaccines work (he can’t get sick from it). Let’s just say, things did not go as planned. Whatever put these anti-vax ideas in his head must have really gotten to him, because it was like he wasn’t even listening to us. As soon as we mentioned the word vaccine, CC started screaming and crying and throwing his Batman toys at us. He told us that not only is he not getting the Covid vaccine but, “isn’t ever ever ever getting any shots or booboos at all for a million zillion years!” When we told him that his school might require it, he told us that “school is stupid and he doesn’t want to go anyway!” The websites we read told us that we needed to be ready for the conversation to go poorly, and that some people are so far gone that they can’t reached, but not my little Chickadee! Say it ain’t so! 

We are working on acceptance now, and letting go. While we are disappointed that our son is already an anti-vaxxer nutjob at the ripe age of 3, he still is our little boy and our whole world. The vaccine issue has been a rift, but we’re trying to to let it totally tear us apart. Despite the fact that we’ve had him quarantined in his bedroom for the past few months, we still have weekly Skype dates and a biweekly Zoom “milk happy hour”. We were ready to end quarantine a few weeks ago, but with this new Delta variant I feel like we really made the right decision. Still, with the vaccine rate increasing, we are hopeful that we can get through this in time to do an in person party for his 6th birthday.

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