By Sylvester Brown, Jr.
Alex & DJ Johnson don’t fit in the categories of anti-vaxxers or COVID conspiracy theorists.
The couple, who are not vaccinated, boast of a lifestyle of exercise and healthy eating. They consider themselves self-educated, well-researched and up to date on current affairs, including the coronavirus pandemic.
Mostly, they get their information about the virus and vaccines from traditional medical and news platforms, not fringe, controversial or suspect websites.
Exercising (“five days a week”) and being careful of what they put into their bodies has helped the Johnsons navigate the pandemic. Both contracted COVID in 2021 before vaccines were available nationwide. But, other than DJ’s loss of taste and smell and Alex flu-like feelings, both said they recuperated within a few days.
From the knowledge they have gleaned, the Johnsons are adamantly opposed to having their 22-month-old baby girl be among the children 6 months of age and older who are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
On the other end of the spectrum, Adrianne and Antwon Blakemore are all in on vaccinating their two children ages two and four, especially the eldest who will start school in the Fall. Both Adrianne and Antwon are fully vaccinated. Adrianne said it wasn’t a hard decision for her and Antwon.
“I’m from Chicago. We travel back and forth to be around my family So, we knew it was something we had to do.”
Another factor that feeds Adrianne’s pro-vaccine attitude was the highly reported death of her 15-yr-old cousin Dykota Morgan who lived in Bolingbrook, IL. The teen died in 2021, less than three days after testing positive for COVID-19. Her death occurred just months before the FDA authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for children 12 years of age and older.
“That made me even more convinced it (COVID) was real,” Adrianne confessed.
It’s not a matter of being reckless, DJ insists. It’s a legitimate effort to take control of their and their child’s health and well-being.
“For the last five decades or so, parents have taken a step back from genuinely getting involved with the overall health of our kids,” DJ explained.
“They just trusted the pediatricians, doctors, and the healthcare systems to do what’s best for their children. As parents, we need to be a lot more actively involved with those conversations, treatments and all that stuff.”
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) accepted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and recommended the use of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for nearly 20 million children who are younger than 5.
Results from a new Kaiser Family Foundation study showed just 18% of US parents of children in the recently approved age-group plan to vaccinate their kids.
Hesitancy, the report said, was fueled by delays in approving the vaccine. According to the report, 38% of surveyed parents said they will wait and see before vaccinating their youngest kids, 27% said they will definitely not vaccinate, and 11% said they will do so only if required.
The Johnsons are not among this vaccine-hesitant group.
“Why would we take the risk of pumping our child full of this unapproved, untested emergency use experimental drug?” DJ asked after listing his concerns.
DJ said he hasn’t seen convincing data that proves young children are even at a high risk of contracting COVID-19. His wife, Alex, noted the medical system’s history of experimenting on Black people as reason not to trust it today. Alex questions the Food and Drug Administration’s expedited “emergency use authorization” of vaccines and says he’s found proof that there are direct links to rising cases of obesity, ADHD, Down Syndrome, and autism among young people connected to COVID vaccines.
Depending on where you search the Internet, there are sites that somewhat corroborate, refute, or outright dismiss DJ’s assertions. For example, the CDC said that all the scientific studies published to date point to the same conclusion: the shots are safe. Yes, like any vaccine, COVID-19 vaccines do cause side effects, but most are mild or moderate and go away within a few days on their own and serious reactions are rare, according to the CDC.
DJ wasn’t deterred by the fact that 1 million people in the US have died from COVID-19 or, according to experts, at least 1,433 of those deaths were among children and young people (CYP) aged 0-19 years. When told that 200 kids under five in this country have died from the virus, DJ was still opposed to vaccinating his child.’
“We’ve lost more kids to gun violence than COVID every year,” DJ asserted, while stressing his opposition to vaccinating his baby. “That doesn’t outweigh the risk of potentially bringing harm to my child. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
The Blakemores are also well-informed. After much research, the Blakemores said they are opting toward the Pizer vaccine for their child. Additionally, Adrianne gave a lot of credit to her children’s pediatrician, Shirley M. Knight, M.D., for helping in their decision.
“She’s amazing,” Adrianne said, referencing Dr. Knight. “She’s good at providing and explaining information and having conversations with us to help us understand.”
As the Kaiser Family Foundation report noted, there are a significant number of parents hesitant about vaccinating their very young children. Many have lingering questions such as: “Are the vaccines safe? How effective are they, especially against Omicron and its sub variants? Should a child who recently had COVID-19 get vaccinated?”
Although the Blakemore’s have made up their minds about vaccinating their children, Adrianneisn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get her kids inoculated.
“They’ll be vaccinated but I’m not sure when. I’m not in a rush,” Adrianne confessed. “I’m still looking at the news and statistics just to make sure what’s coming down the pipeline.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.