I Have COVID-19 and I’m Not Mad. I’m Just Disappointed.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I’m sitting here, my head all stuffed up and my body aching with fatigue, and I’m looking over at my wife who is feeling the same way but worse (she always gets it—whatever it is—worse than I do) and I’m thinking: How did we get COVID-19?

And I know the answer and it’s a simple one and I’m going to tell you and I’m also telling you, right now, I’m not inviting your opinion or your debate. Not on this one. What I’m doing is telling my story, my perspective, and what I know in the hopes that it can do some good. Maybe it won’t, but I’ve got to try. And in trying, I’ll do my best to not scold or make anyone feel bad, but I also can’t guarantee that won’t happen. Because:

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

We have COVID-19 because not enough people have gotten vaccinated. That’s it. That’s the truth. That’s the reason Erin and I are currently locked up in our house together, coughing for the first time in 18 months, nose dripping for the first time in 18 months, and head swirling and sinuses draining for the first time in 18 months.

You might be thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” And you’re right, it’s not that bad. Any other year, I’d have thought it was allergies or a head cold, but a test yesterday proved otherwise. We have COVID-19. It finally got us.

We locked down in March 2020. We did the full year and change of staying away from family, friends, restaurants, and public spaces mostly for the sake of our middle daughter (who is immuno-compromised), but also because it was wise and we could do so without suffering economic hardship. Believe me, I know how fortunate that makes us, and I’m grateful to and understanding of those who showed up to work during that time anyway.

So, why and when did my family finally come out of isolation? Once we were vaccinated. Two shots.

That’s why our symptoms aren’t that bad: we’re vaccinated. Fully. Have been for a while. What a miracle that vaccine is. We still obey the CDC protocols and mask up when necessary and restrict our contact with the unvaccinated (particularly for the sake of our youngest, who is not old enough to receive the vaccine quite yet), but it has been nice to return to something resembling normalcy. A prophet of the Lord, Russell M. Nelson, who leads the Church I belong to, said this:

“With approval from our physician, my wife, Wendy, and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19. We are very grateful. This was the first week either of us was eligible to receive the vaccine. We are thankful for the countless doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, government leaders, and others who have performed the grueling work required to make this vaccine available. We have prayed often for this literal godsend.”

Nice, right? “Godsend.” But then he took it a step further. The Church he leads donated $20 million to COVAX, a global campaign to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines to people in low- and middle-income countries. That’s quite the endorsement. $20 million. Wow.

Then, he went even further. The same day he made that statement on his personal social media, the Church issued an official statement urging members to “help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization” because “vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life.”

Then, because perhaps a lot of people still weren’t getting it, on March 31 of this year, a change was made to the Church’s General Handbook, Section 38, where it reads: “Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children and their communities through vaccination.”

Why do I quote all this? Because, number one, I’m so grateful to be led by a prophet of God, but also because I have a diverse friend group and I think it’s worth pointing out to some of my non-believing friends that while defiant churches get all the press, there are other churches out there that are a little more sober-minded.

And yet…still I know there is hesitancy. Even within the Church I belong to…even with all this unmistakable instruction out there…there is hesitancy. There are those who have not taken the time to get vaccinated.

And that is why my wife and I have COVID-19.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

See, there’s this little thing called “herd immunity.” It’s what you get when either a) a virus has worked its way through a significant portion of the population and antibodies are super present, or b) when you have enough of the population vaccinated that the virus can’t spread. Our grandparents understood this stuff way better. They beat back polio not by dying off, but by vaccinating.

“Hold up,” I hear you saying. “You’re vaccinated. What gives? Herd immunity is for the weak, right? For those who can’t get vaccinated? So how did you get COVID-19?”

Well, funny thing. When a population doesn’t have a vaccine or chooses not to get vaccinated, they’re giving the virus the very thing it wants most: time. Time to mutate. Time to develop into something more powerful and stronger. Time to become something that can resist vaccines.

Enter: The Delta variant.

Good ol’ Delta Variant. It’s a fighter, that one. Recent mutation. Stronger, faster, more agile. Able to penetrate even the double vaxxed in a single bound.

And boy, does it love YOU. You, with your mask under your nose or not on at all (same thing). You, with your conspiracy theories. You, with your busy schedule. You, with your politics. You, with all your reasons.

You, with your fear.

“Faith not fear.” It’s something I’ve heard a lot lately. You know, I can’t say I’ve been fearful even once in the past year and a half. I trust my God and I trust the experts He inspires. I know that the very worst thing you can imagine can happen at any moment, and I know that because life has thrown me that kind of curveball more than once. So, I don’t live in fear. That’s a waste of precious time between tragedies. I live in gratitude.

But I also put on my dang seat belt.

It’s not fear that motivates mask wearing and vaccinating. It’s common sense. Fear is resisting a thing that’s trying to save you because it might rewrite your DNA, give you 5G, put a microchip in you, cause infertility, or take a piece of your pride.

Remember Moses and the Israelites? They were plagued by venomous snakes. Moses created a brass serpent, stuck it on a pole, and told them to look at it. If they did, they’d be healed. If they didn’t, well…a lot of people died. They friggin’ died because they wouldn’t look at the thing. Can you imagine?

Of course you can. You live in 2021.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I don’t pretend to know everything about the virus, but I trust the people who do. Steve Jobs died because he thought the opposite way about cancer. My favorite quote on this is from Bill Burr. He was a guest on the Joe Rogan Show, and he said this:

“I’m not going to sit here with no medical degree, listening to you with no medical degree, with an American flag behind you, smoking a cigar, acting like we know what’s up better than the CDC. All I do is I watch the news once every two weeks. I’m like ‘Mask or no mask? Still mask? Alright, masks.’ That’s all I give a f**k about.”

Obviously, Burr said this way before the vaccinations came about. I can only imagine what he’s saying now. (He cusses a lot; I don’t make a habit of listening to Bill Burr. But that doesn’t make him stupid. Or wrong.)

My wife and I have COVID-19 because we, as a society, have given refuge to a virus that has killed more Americans than WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and 9/11 combined. That virus has been allowed to grow and mutate into something that is spreading faster and farther not because we don’t have the ability to fight it, but because too many of us have chosen not to.

I don’t get it. I thought we were fighters. More, I thought that in this country we looked out for each other, not just for ourselves. I thought we were smarter and stronger than this. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Okay, maybe I’m a little mad.

But I’m mostly just disappointed.

My wife and I are lucky. Our symptoms are mild and because we’re vaccinated they are not likely to last long. After 10 days of quarantine, we should be able to see our kids again. We just got back from Georgia, so that’s a total of 15 days overall. We’ve never been apart from them for that long. Worth it to keep them safe.

My wife and I are lucky. We’re vaccinated and though the Delta Variant got to us, it could have been far, far worse. If you’re not vaccinated and you’re not persuaded by the responsibility you have to us and to your fellow man, then please, please get it for yourself. Don’t make the foolish mistake of thinking you’re super healthy or you’ve already had it so you’re good—that’s not how herd immunity works with mutations on the rise, and plenty of people—some of whom I know personally—have gotten this thing twice. It’s not a hoax, it’s not an imaginary story. It’s real and it’s infecting new and younger and repeat people all the time.

My wife and I are lucky. We know we’ve been doing all we can. I may have COVID-19, but my conscience is clear.

Please, please clear your conscience if it needs that. I genuinely am not trying to make you feel bad and I will embrace you with open arms and a hearty “Good job!” once you do. I would love to do that.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely my friend. Please know that this issue—while important to me and one I have a lot of feelings and sinus pressure on (soooo much sinus pressure)—will not divide us. I won’t let it, for my part. I won’t trade one bad thing for a greater evil.

But, please, let’s do this together. Let’s look at the brass serpent and head over to the promised land together. I hear it’s awesome there.

Congratulations on Your Super Healthy Kid

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.44.48 AM
Detail from “Vaccines Work: Here are the Facts” by Maki Naro

I am not a scientist.

I say that to get it out of the way and let you know up front what sort of blog is this is going to be. There are plenty of articles and blogs out there that provide ample research and reasoning in support of vaccinations. The comic I’ve excerpted to the left is a great primer and is fun to read to boot. It gives a basic rundown of the objections raised by the anti-vaccination crowd and answers them in the best format for communicating ideas man has yet created (yeah, that’s right). If you’re looking for something more detailed, this exhaustively hyperlinked blog has basically done all the work for you. The point of both the comic and blog is this: vaccinations are good and believing otherwise is not a good idea.

You want to debate the science? Go check out the above links. I’m gonna approach this topic the only way I know how: as a parent.

* * *

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to sum up the entire vaccinations issue with one sentence: You don’t mess with Disneyland.

Wait. Let me add periods for emphasis:

You. Don’t. Mess. With. Disney. Land.

It’s no wonder the internet exploded with rage when kids with measles started pouring out of Disneyland. What’s happened since is a collective freakout the likes of which we only see once in a young, blue pop star. Because you don’t mess with Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on Earth. You’re supposed to come back with a Mickey Mouse balloon, not a fatal disease.*

I think we’ve all been more or less content to go along with the existence of the anti-vaccination crowd and not bother with them too much for this long because, until now, they never stopped anyone from going on Space Mountain. Now, they have. Now, we’ve got our Hannibal Buress moment. There’s a new spotlight on the issue and it’s bright.

I hate even bringing this up. Not only do I have family on the other side of it, but I’m very much a “let people decide for themselves” kind of person. I respect a person’s right to conduct their family affairs and raise their kids how they want. I believe in choice. I believe in agency.

But I guess I don’t believe in my kids dying.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. “Dying?” Man, what a jump and a mighty gun that is. That kind of language is just inflammatory. I mean, there’s sick and there’s death. One doesn’t always–or even usually–follow the other and lots of kids have had measles through the years and not died from it. Tons of them just get brain damage or go deaf. Sheesh.

While that may be true, for my middle daughter Cami and for a lot of kids just like her, certain sicknesses–sicknesses like the ones (hopefully not still) in residence at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and preventable by vaccinations–are a likely death sentence.

So you can imagine my joy a couple months ago when she got a bad case of Whooping Cough that quickly developed into pneumonia. There was a time when we made a yearly visit to the hospital to get Cami the proper care for an annual battle with pneumonia. How fondly I remember holding her weak little hand while she did her best to breathe through her wheezing. Last month, it was with the greatest of nostalgia that I looked forward to (not) sleeping on the ER floor and subsisting on a diet of vending machine crackers while wondering if my daughter would live through the night.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Being old pros at this, my wife and I got Cami in to her doctor within hours of the pneumonia symptoms showing up and righted that ship in time enough for her to not be admitted.

“But wait,” I don’t hear you saying. “That all started with Whooping Cough? Maybe I need to go back and read this blog again. Aren’t you advocating for vaccinations? How did Cami get Whooping Cough in the first place if she’s current on her vaccinations?”

Great question. Well done. How did Cami get Whooping Cough?

As a child with special needs, Cami has a lot of challenges in life. One of the challenges my wife and I have to pay special attention to is her weak immune system. Some people forget about kids like Cami when they say things like “Theoretically the only people who should be getting the measles are those who are not vaccinated.”** Even setting aside the issue of children who are not eligible for the MMR and other vaccinations due to cancer or age (but who are still very much susceptible to the measles, et al), and herd immunity and the accumulative wrongness of too many people making what they think is a purely “personal” decision at the same time, it is simply gross ignorance to assume that vaccines are 100% preventative. They’re not.

Cami was vaccinated against Whooping Cough and she still got it because she’s weak and it was around to get. That’s it. This disease that was on its way out is roaring its way back and mowing down kids like Cami in its path. We were fortunate in that the only bad things to come out of her bout with Whooping Cough were a short case of pneumonia and a persistent, violent cough that will probably be sticking around for another four or five months. I can even hear the cough waking her up in her bedroom right now as I’m typing this late at night.

Cami was vaccinated but some kid or kids around her were not, so she got Whooping Cough. My wife and I have now been shoved kicking and screaming into a whole new era of parenting: Cami’s pediatrician is advising us to keep her away from all children who have not been properly vaccinated.

If that sounds impossible to you then you’re sane.

In trying to deal with this new paradigm, we sent out an email to our extended family to ask for their assistance in keeping Cami safe. Here’s an excerpt:

We do not intend to offend with this email, but if you choose to not vaccinate that puts us in the position of also having to make a choice.

Obviously, the only sure way to keep Cami safe is to put her in a bubble and hide her from the world. That’s kind of ridiculous. However, if we know Cami is headed into a situation where adults or children are present who have not been vaccinated, then we will act on that knowledge, and when we don’t know and can’t know—at school and the grocery store for example—we will proceed just as we always have.

We admittedly don’t know what all of the far-reaching implications of this policy might be. We’re doing our best over here to deal with what’s been handed to us.

All we really know is that we’ve got to do what we can. This is our sacrifice to make, so if any of you will be attending a family function who might be a risk to Cami, we are not asking you to stay home. We will keep Cami home.

A calm, reasonable person wrote that email. We weren’t trying to berate anyone or force them to do anything other than what they felt best, we just wanted to protect Cami. That was our only motivation.

But I’ll be honest with you and admit I find it increasingly more difficult to keep a cool head on this issue. I respect everyone’s right to choose, but I find myself wondering if, on this matter, I really should. Where does your right to choose end and my child’s right to live begin?

I’m far from the only one wrestling with this. One father in Tiburon, CA has already made his mind up about it. He wants to take the choice away from the parents in his school district for the sake of his son with leukemia. Is he a good dad or a villain?

And what does it mean when the LDS (Mormon) Church (a religious organization that cites personal agency as one of the basic tenets of its faith) implores its members to get properly immunized and actively assists in efforts to immunize the world? 

Not to be inflammatory (but, let’s face it, that’s totally what I’m about to do), but how much difference is there, really, between driving drunk and choosing to not vaccinate? In both instances you’re talking about a “personal” choice that could result in negative, life or death consequences for the individual or those around them… or not. It’s the “or not” part that empowers the inebriated the world over to climb into two ton vehicles and clumsily weaponize them on the open road (the alcohol helps, too). If you don’t vaccinate your kids, I can’t help but want to protect my child from your drunk driving.

See, my child is Disneyland. She got Whooping Cough and was fortunate enough to not get measles (so far), but she’s my Disneyland.

And you don’t mess with my Disneyland.

Bottom line: if you’re going around thinking everything is fine and all of this worry is for nothing because vaccines are evil and your kid is fine and can run and play just fine and your decision to not vaccinate only affects you and your child anyway, I’m sorry, but that’s simply not the case. There’s a lot of kids out there who are not as strong as all that. And there’s going to be more every day if you keep not vaccinating.

But, hey, congrats on having super healthy kids. I truly hope they stay that way.

*If I was a Disneyland cast member, I’d be ticked. Do you know how hard they work to keep that place clean and disease free? I swear if you drop a piece of trash there it disappears into another dimension or something before it hits the ground. You could eat pizza off those sidewalks. (But not the pizza in Tomorrowland. That stuff is gross. Sorry, Mickey.)

**Actual quote from a recent discussion on Facebook.