Families divided over Covid-19 vaccinations and masks in the United States

WASHINGTON – Physical therapist Aimee Schuh, 31, will get married in September in an outdoor ceremony in South Carolina, after having to reschedule her wedding twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There will be dancing, as with most pre-pandemic weddings. But there will also be masks and hand sanitisers available for guests who are requested to be vaccinated, if possible, to keep others safe.

Ms Schuh said that several guests are undergoing cancer treatments or have an autoimmune disorder, while other relatives and friends will be bringing infants who cannot be vaccinated – including her newborn niece, who will be only about a month old at that point.

“I already know I’m going to get family members calling me, telling me it’s their choice. And yes, I understand that’s your choice. You don’t have to be vaccinated to come. But we are going to ask you to wear a mask, because we just don’t want that virus spreading to those at risk if we can avoid it,” Ms Schuh told The Straits Times.

She reckons that just the vaccination request will deter some of family members from coming.

“Honestly, I’m okay with it. If you’re not willing to protect my newborn niece, you’re not welcome,” she said.

Buoyed by rising vaccination rates, the United States has increasingly rolled back its masking requirements in recent weeks.

On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks, whether indoors or outdoors, in most situations.

Other states followed suit and eased their own mask and social distancing requirements, as did businesses across the country. This essentially replaced mask mandates with an honour system of trusting that those not wearing masks really had been vaccinated.

But that left many Americans like Ms Schuh, who want to be cautious, having to navigate how to interact with sceptical loved ones who doubt the need for vaccinations or masks. Others never believed in the severity of Covid-19 to begin with.

Government contractor Charles Stevens, 33, is the only one in his immediate family to be vaccinated.

He did so that he could get back to a “somewhat normal” life and hang out with friends again.

“My folks think it’s too soon, my brother, I don’t know if he believes in it or not, and my sister doesn’t like vaccinations. So in regards to their personal choices, that’s their preference, but I feel like it’s better safe than sorry,” he said.

Mr Stevens hopes his vaccination might change the minds of his family members.

“I got it and everything’s A-OK,” he said. “As far as my mum and dad go, I feel like they should do it because they’re older and it’s better for them. So are my sister and brother,” he added.

The divisions are deeply partisan in America, with polls showing that Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

One survey by PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist released on May 17 found that 41 per cent of Republicans say they do not plan to get vaccinated, compared to the 4 per cent of Democrats who say the same.

“I have that one family member who thinks masks don’t work and Covid’s not real. And she actually posted on Facebook that she doesn’t want the vaccine because she didn’t want Bill Gates’s microchip,” said Ms Schuh.

So far, 63 per cent of adults in America have received at least one shot and 52 per cent are fully vaccinated, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told a press briefing on Thursday (June 3).

The Biden administration aims to get 70 per cent of adults vaccinated by July 4.

But another obstacle in achieving herd immunity may be the divisions within families, as America’s teens become eligible for vaccines but may have to seek the consent of their parents to get it, depending on their age and the state in which they live.

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorised for children as young as 12 in the US, and studies for younger children are ongoing.

“This has focused attention on the role of parents and parental consent for vaccination, especially since most parents are not yet ready to get their child vaccinated,” said the Kaiser Family Foundation in a report on May 26.

In its most recent survey, three in 10 parents say they will get their child vaccinated right away, but the majority say they want to wait and see or will get their child vaccinated only if required for school. Nearly a quarter say they will not get their child vaccinated at all.

In one viral video last week, a TikTok user going by the name of Brianna showed her father sobbing as he begged her not to get vaccinated, offering her cash as he repeated conspiracy theories that the vaccine was actually a human trial that would kill her later in the year.

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