Dear Carolyn: My wife and I are expecting our first child in about eight weeks, and under the advisement of our obstetrician and pediatrician, we’ve asked our parents and siblings who will be near the baby to get vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis). Seemed pretty easy. I know it’s a vaccination most people have a few times as adults since it’s bundled with the tetanus vaccine.
My brother and I are quite close, we see each other often, and I was expecting him to be around quite a bit in the baby’s early days.
A couple of days after our request, he pulled me aside and let me know he and his wife don’t believe vaccines are safe. She has a sibling with a developmental disability, and the family has a strong feeling that vaccines were the cause.
I have no intention of having this debate with my brother. After speaking to the pediatrician, it sounds like the safest course of action is to restrict his access until the baby is fully protected (6 months).
Am I being fair here? I’m incredibly hurt, sad and more than a little angry that my brother would choose a view like this one over the safety of my child. Any advice on how to keep this from being a major incident? Masks, gloves and hand sanitizer required to come to Thanksgiving?
J.: I wish there were a vaccine against vaccine hysteria.
But then, the only people who’d get it are the ones who don’t need it.
I understand your decision not to debate this with your brother, given the low instance of such debates changing any minds.
That decision, though, means you can’t allow yourself to be governed by your “hurt, sad and . . . angry” feelings — because you can’t have it both ways. You can’t hold it against your brother and not give him any say.
Instead, I suggest you treat this as a strictly factual vs. emotional situation: 1. Pertussis is highly contagious and can be lethal to infants. 2. You need to protect your child. 3. Your brother is entitled to do what he thinks is right. 4. He’ll meet your baby in six months. 5. It’s a bummer, but you love and respect each other and you will get past this.
Okay, No. 5 isn’t a fact unless you both make it so. But part of that will rest in your decision not to see this as your brother “choos[ing] a view like this one over the safety of my child.” He’s choosing not to be vaccinated, yes, but seeing that as a decision to harm your child is your choice. It’s a layer of interpretation — and provocation — that you don’t need to add. He chooses the view; you choose whether and how it affects your child’s safety.
So. “I love you, I know you’re making your choice in good faith, I’m not going to try to change your mind, the little dude/dudette will be overjoyed to meet you when the doctor says it’s safe.” You can’t make your brother or any other planned Thanksgiving attendees be gracious about the wait, but you can show everyone how it’s done.
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