#1345: Newborns, vaccines, and visiting relatives.

Hi Captain Awkward,

My wife and I are happy parents of a newborn baby. Relatives have been eager to pop in on us, and we have enjoyed these visits.

Meanwhile, my sister and brother-in law have just booked tickets to come visit us. While we are excited to see them, they are of a different political persuasion than we are. Given that we have a newborn in our house, we would feel most comfortable knowing that our guests are vaccinated. This is probably something that should have been addressed when we first were notified of their impending visit, and we now find ourselves in the position of needing to address this after the fact. Naturally we don’t want to ruin their travel plans or make things awkward. How do we approach this issue in a tactful manner?

-Vaxxed and Vexxed

Dear Vaxxed and Vexxed,

Congratulations on being a new parent! Welcome to many, many rewarding years of Ruining The Vibe™ and Making It Awkward® in order to protect your child’s safety!

I suggest that you call your child’s pediatrician ASAP, both for the latest vaccine recommendations for people who will be around newborns, and so that you won’t be lying when you tell your sister, “We spoke to Kid’s pediatrician, and their advice is that anyone visiting the baby within the first six months be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 (among a few other things, rubella and whooping cough are nightmares!) and also mask up while Kid’s immune system is still developing. We wanted to let you know so there’s enough time to handle it before your trip, or make another plan* if it’s not possible. Can you confirm that you’re both fully vaccinated plus the recommended two weeks?”


Hopefully they’re already all set and this was just a check-in, but tell the doctor that you are specifically concerned about mitigating risks from unvaccinated/anti-vaxx relatives, and fall back on your doctor’s advice if your sister and her husband give you any difficulty. “We are really looking forward to seeing you, but we’re going to stick with our doctor’s recommendations, so we understand if that means holding off on the trip for a while yet so everyone can be safe.” 

Yes, it would have been ideal to address this when they were first planning the trip, but you probably had a lot going on and it probably didn’t occur to you immediately that your sister could have the option of receiving the vaccine and not choose it. Hopefully she did the right thing already, but don’t leave it to chance, and don’t fall into the trap of believing that if you didn’t bring up an important thing right away, you’re never allowed to bring it up, oh well, nothing to be done about it now. Talk to her before she visits and make sure.

I’ve gotten so many letters in the last year and a half that basically boil down to people asking for permission to prioritize their own safety and health even if others find it rude or upsetting. “Am I allowed to save my own life and protect my kids even if other people are put out?” EMPHATICALLY YES!

The social pressure to comply with unconscionable, unsafe shit is not abating. People will find all sorts of ways to make the risk of appearing “rude” or “tactless,” causing inconvenience, and making them feel less than awesome about their own risky choices seem more onerous than the risk of serious illness and death.  “Are you really going to check our vaccine papers at the door?” “Are you going to make it necessary? Because if that’s what I have to do, I will.”  “Are you making everyone do this or just us?” “Well, everyone, ideally, but after seeing you say [weird anti-vaxx comment], yup, definitely you!” “You’re overreacting!” “Maybe so! I sure hope so, in fact! But no vaxx, no nibbling chonky baby thighs, it’s really up to you.” 

People who play these power games seem to think the prospect of them feeling bad about themselves or being mad at you is the scariest thing in the world, but they never think about how mad you would be at them if they transmitted a serious illness to your baby because: ideology! Wanna talk about “ruined” vacations?

Trips can be postponed. Hurt feelings can be soothed. Men have died, and worms have eaten them, but not for being kinda cautious about immunizations in the middle of a global pandemic and insisting on a few awkward conversations with anyone who will be around your brand new baby. You will not be the one making it weird by enforcing minimum safety standards on behalf of someone who can’t, and the any virtues of “respecting other people’s ideological differences” fall apart when those ideologies actively endanger you and yours.

There will never be a better reason or better time to hold the line.