“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
— Nelson Mandela
The misplaced logic, hysteria or mythology that may have motivated Utah anti-vaxxers to avoid medical advice during the early months of the COVID pandemic seems to have had little negative impact on children and young adults. However, thanks to the delta variant’s appetite to dig deeper into the gene pool, we have now entered a phase both more dangerous and more deadly for young people.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that infections among the young “are nearly doubling week after week.” Between July 22–29, 72,000 children under 12 were infected — an alarming 84% increase from just weeks before. This is not just another COVID statistic; it is a five-bell alarm demanding immediate action.
While some adults are cavalier about the virus’s threat to their own health, none should be so about its impact on children. A recent New York Times article, “This Is Really Scary,” warns, “As young people across the country prepare to return to school, many are struggling to recover from lingering post-Covid neurological, physical or psychiatric symptoms. Often called ‘long Covid,’ the symptoms and their duration vary, as does the severity.” In other words, pediatricians are concerned that the effects of this disease in children could last for years.
In spite of such news, fearmongers and advocates of quackery are increasingly joined by middle- and upper-class parents who consider their Google searches of fringe websites superior to the scientific and medical community’s increasingly urgent entreaties for increased vaccinations and masking. Some argue that there is not yet enough scientific research to know the full impact of the virus on children, but by the time we do have such research, thousands of children are likely to suffer with lifelong afflictions and still others to die.
One would think that adults who have delayed getting vaccinated would be moved by the threat of the virus to the young. Some, however, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have adopted an indifferent attitude toward the infection of children, refusing to issue mandates for vaccination of school personnel or masking of students.
The result is that Florida now leads the entire nation in new childhood COVID infections and hospitalizations. In spite of the overwhelming evidence showing children as victims of the virus, DeSantis, like Utah legislators, claims he is supporting the rights of parents to make decisions for their children.
Because of the low rate of vaccination in Utah (approximately 45% of those eligible), infections in the state are increasing markedly, making Utah’s children among the most vulnerable in the nation, a vulnerability that will increase dramatically when schools reopen. And yet the Utah Legislature has passed a bill forbidding schools from mandating vaccinations and masking.
Some argue that parents and other adults who refuse to get vaccinated are well-intentioned, acting on behalf of what they consider the safety of their children, but society does not permit intention to overrule situations in which children are actually put at risk. Parents who don’t believe seat belts are necessary are nevertheless required to buckle up their children.
In ancient Israel when “fiery serpents” were killing people, God instructed Moses to put a brass serpent on a staff with the promise that the only thing people had to do to be spared was to look on the symbol. Many did and were saved, but “because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17:31).
Getting a vaccine is an easy and simple way to protect oneself and others from this virus that has killed more than 618,000 Americans and more than 4,310,000 people worldwide.
Ironically, a staff with an entwined serpent, “the Rod of Asclepius,” named for the Greek god of healing and medicine, is the symbol of the American Medical Association, which is desperately pleading for adults to save our children from this virus by taking an easy and simple step.
If exercising your right to choose is so important to you, consider this choice: Would you rather continue to be unvaccinated and run the risk of having to hold the hand of your dying child who is hooked up to a respirator, or get vaccinated and hold her hand while she walks to kindergarten, gets married, or delivers her first baby – and eventually even hold the hand of that baby?
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., is visiting professor and director of Mormon studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.