I’ll say this for the pre-vaccine days: it was far easier to think about risk when the only sensible option—for those lucky enough for it to even be an option—was to hunker down, avoid as much contact with other people as possible, and wait out the storm. But a year of self-imposed isolation, fueled partially by fear and partially by a moral imperative to not infect others, has a way of scrambling your brain in a way that makes it hard to figure out what’s “safe” now that we’ve entered this strange.
Half-vaccinated liminal phase. After getting my shots this past spring, it took me weeks to feel anything resembling normal while spending time with family and friends indoors again. Now, with the Delta variant fueling a potential fourth wave while only half the country is vaccinated and many people are acting as if the pandemic is over, it’s harder than ever to gauge the risk to me and, more importantly, my nearly two-year-old son.
It would help if you and I could think this through together. A 32-year-old vaccinated man with no relevant pre-existing conditions, I am very safe from developing severe COVID-19. Yes, breakthrough cases happen—they were always going to happen; the vaccines were judged on their ability to prevent severe disease, not infection—but they are rare, and severe cases among the inoculated are rarer still.
The result: this has become, as U.S. President Joe Biden recently put it, a “pandemic of the unvaccinated;” nearly all the latest deaths are among those who didn’t get their shots. The logical side of my brain knows all this, but the anxiety-driven corners of it also know that breakthrough cases still happen. There’s a non-zero chance I could be one of those cases and wind up very sick, or die, or end up with inexplicable Long COVID symptoms that plague me for months, years, or the rest of my life, making it harder to be the father I want to be.
My answer to all this is to keep avoiding large indoor crowds, to steer clear of anyone I know to be unvaccinated, and to start wearing my mask at the grocery store again, CDC guidance otherwise be damned. I’ve gotten used to the hermit life—a little too used to it, probably—and another few months of laying low won’t kill me.
Judging the risk to my son, unfortunately, is far more complex. Like all Americans under 12, he remains unvaccinated, though I would bring him in for the shot in a heartbeat given a chance. Children predominantly do not get seriously sick from COVID-19; only about 350 have died of the virus in the U.S. so far. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, a vanishingly small case fatality rate of 0.01%. But, again, it does happen, and every headline I see about an eight-, six-, or three-year-old who died from a severe case makes me want to take my son.
Climb into a doomsday bunker and return only when it’s time for his bar mitzvah. That childhood COVID-19 fatalities are skyrocketing in Indonesia is a particularly harrowing data point. However, many children there, and in other low-income parts of the world, are likely at higher risk because, tragically, they suffer from poor access to health care, malnutrition, and other factors that make them more vulnerable to disease in general.