When they say it’s a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ remember that means every child under 12

When they say it’s a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ remember that means every child under 12

The new message on COVID-19, as the delta variant spreads, is that this is now “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Presumably this message—coming from the Biden administration (I’m definitely looking at you and your Twitter feed, White House chief of staff Ron Klain), the CDC, and the media—is intended to convince people to get vaccinated. Whether it works, I don’t know. But, speaking as the vaccinated parent of a child too young to be vaccinated, it’s an infuriating message.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky did use the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” message to encourage people to get vaccinated because children under 12 can’t be. But most of the people emphasizing “get vaccinated or you might die” aren’t talking about that as anything more than an afterthought. And under Walensky, the CDC’s policy pretends that kids are not an issue. Get vaccinated because it will slow the spread of the coronavirus and kids will be less likely to be exposed. But other precautions that might protect children? Nah.

Vaccinated people can go maskless just about anywhere but health care facilities and public transit. Unvaccinated people are politely asked to wear masks indoors, but no one is checking who’s vaccinated. And if there’s one thing we know about many unvaccinated people, it’s their intense concern for public health. The CDC is gently suggesting that a group of people significantly overlapping with the ones who spent the past year-plus screeching about how masks are tyranny should, on the honor system, probably wear masks. 

We know children under 12 aren’t vaccinated. So if you want one small measure of how many people are ignoring the feckless plea that the unvaccinated wear masks indoors, go to your nearest grocery store and look for a kid under 12 who isn’t wearing a mask. Go ahead. I’ll give you 10 minutes, but you probably won’t need it. And the parents of all those kids are right there, apparently fine with the situation.

A pandemic of the unvaccinated? Our kids are the unvaccinated. 

Oh, but we’re told it’s okay, because kids don’t get too sick from COVID-19. Nothing to worry about! Never mind that we don’t know how the delta variant—or the variant after that—might be different in children. Never mind the 87% increase in COVID-19 diagnoses among children under 12 in Florida last week. Never mind the 22 children hospitalized in Alabama or the 11 in one Kansas City hospital. The numbers aren’t huge … yet. We don’t know where they’re going. And we’re talking about our kids. Our kids who have lived significant fractions of their lives during this pandemic and now, just as it seemed like they might get back to their lives, face virus rates rising again and a whole new set of worries about transmission to deal with, while the FDA broadcasts an intention to slow-walk emergency use authorization for vaccines for children under 12.

My kid probably won’t die or have long-term effects if he gets COVID-19. He doesn’t have underlying conditions, he’ll have great medical care. He’ll probably be fine. How am I supposed to respond to that? Great? Fab? Yee-f’ing-haw? There’s an entire industry out there dedicated to convincing parents that kids are a total non-issue rather than convincing people in power to set guidelines that will protect children to begin with, and every single person in that industry can fuck all the way off.

What’s enraging is that the “your kid will probably be fine” message isn’t coming with a “but we’re doing everything we can to protect everyone” addendum. It’s coming as the excuse for not doing anything to protect kids. Or seriously immunocompromised people for whom vaccines don’t confer the full level of protection. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, folks! Vaccination is the answer to everything, no need to do anything else! While the people who have chosen not to be vaccinated draw a lot of reporting, and varying levels of judgment, our fury should be reserved for the people in positions of power who are making this a question of personal responsibility rather than public policy. For the institutions that could say our public health is contingent on something other than an honor system placed largely in the hands of the dishonorable. We need our leaders to do better.

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