She is a cancer survivor and needs protection from the coronavirus.
By Wajahat Ali | Especially for The New York Times
| May 24, 2021, 7.30 p.m.
You and your kids can help protect my 4 year old daughter’s life.
Nusayba was found to have a rare form of cancer at the age of 2. Since then she has undergone multiple chemotherapy treatments and a liver transplant. Fortunately, she has been cancer free for over a year now. Her cheeks are plump, her bouncy, thick curls grow back, and we can’t help but indulge her love of cinnamon buns and Dippin ‘Dots.
The best news my family has heard since Nusayba was declared cancer-free is that the FDA has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds. Pfizer has announced that it wants to get approval for a vaccine for children ages 2 to 11 by September. This should give us all hope, as scientists say that vaccinating children is critical to reducing hospitalization and deaths and bringing us closer to herd immunity.
I just hope that parents take advantage of this development and get their kids to take the pictures. Unfortunately, according to recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, only about 29 percent of parents of children under 18 say they will have their child vaccinated “right away” as soon as the child is eligible.
That’s important to me because, like others around the world with suppressed immune systems, Nusayba has a much higher risk of dying if she contracts COVID-19. A small study found that those who are immune compromised and infected, including some people treated for cancer, such as Nusayba, have a death rate as high as 55 percent.
Even though my wife and I are fully vaccinated, we still haven’t gotten back to “normal” like many of our peers. We must be vigilant to protect Nusayba. We avoid crowded playgrounds, we said no to most of the social events of Ramadan and Eid, and we continue to wear masks and practice keeping our distance.
Living with risks like this has taken its toll, even as we celebrate our little girl’s survival. For example, we planned to send her to primary school for the first time this fall. But the constant fear runs through our heads: what happens when she eats snacks in the indoor cafeteria and a child who is infected coughs near her? What happens if she draws pictures of My Little Pony next to her unvaccinated classmates and slips some children’s masks under their noses and one of those kids is infected?
Suddenly, this brave girl who endured and survived stage 4 cancer could be fighting for her life again.
The risk is real. You may be done with the coronavirus, but the virus is not done with our children, who account for 24 percent of new coronavirus cases in the US. That’s why I pray every day for the FDA to approve coronavirus vaccines for young children. But even then, I know that kids like Nusayba may not produce antibodies after they get it.
Science tells us the vaccines are safe for adults and children 12 and older, and we know they won’t be approved for younger children unless experts determine they are safe for them too. Still, I have empathy for parents who are careful about vaccinating their children. Believe me, I understand that I feel protective of a child’s health. For the past two years, my wife and I have had to be vigilant every day and keep an eye on Nusayba’s life-saving medications, which she takes twice a day. These drugs are her best shot at living a normal life, but they also have potential side effects and adverse consequences.
In 2019, I wrote about the rise of vaccine reluctance in America. Then my wife, who is a physician, said that when she approaches patients who are reluctant to vaccinate with compassion, understanding, and a lack of judgment, she has been able to convince some to change their minds and trust science. So I have to believe that some well-meaning people who remain skeptical about vaccines – for themselves and for their children – may be open to looking past the abundant misinformation and lies surrounding vaccines and rethinking their position.
The reality is that parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children and teens will harm us all. That’s why it’s so disturbing to hear people like Joe Rogan tell young people they don’t need vaccines (although he ended up telling his audience not to take his health advice seriously). In fact, young people continue to be at risk for serious health problems when infected, and children can still pass the virus on to others.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson urged viewers to “call the police” if they saw children wearing masks outside, comparing mask wearing to child abuse. Do you know what really seems like child abuse, especially to parents like me who are so concerned about our vulnerable children? Ignoring science, medical experts, and basic security measures to spark a self-destructive culture war in a deadly pandemic.
Please get vaccinated. Get your kids vaccinated if they qualify. Please wear a mask when you are around or in the crowd, and make sure your kids do the same. By taking these simple precautions, you will not only protect yourself and your loved ones, but also help protect vulnerable children like mine. We just need enough people to take care of and take all the right precautions so that children like Nusayba have the opportunity to live full and healthy lives.
Wajahat Ali is a columnist for The Daily Beast and the author of the upcoming book “Get Back to Where You Come From: and Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become an American.”