Poetic Justice is an advice column that offers counter-advice to submissions at other publications whose contributors have failed the reader.
The New York Times’ Ethicist Columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah counseled a reader last week who wrote concerned about the family babysitter’s vaccine status. The full submission from the anonymous author is below:
My husband and I employ a wonderful young woman to care for our two children after school. They love her dearly, and we feel incredibly lucky to have her, except for one thing: She is unvaccinated. We’ve been slow to confront the situation, but with Omicron spreading widely in our community, we’re torn about whether we can continue to allow her to work for us.
Our after-school babysitter comes from a minority community with an understandably low trust in government and the medical profession. Her community has been skeptical of the vaccine and has one of the lowest vaccination rates in our city. Over time, her family has been vaccinated. But she has been influenced by online misinformation about the vaccine’s impact on fertility and possible allergic reactions.
Rapid tests are free and easily available here, so she has been testing twice weekly. But the risk calculus feels like it has changed due to the infectiousness of Omicron. Still, we are heartsick about the idea of firing her. And firing someone because they make a choice about their personal medical care feels like an expression of white supremacy, even if this choice affects us. Never mind that vaccines are less protective against Omicron and so less effective in stopping the virus’s spread.
My head is telling me that we must tell her we don’t feel comfortable allowing someone who is unvaccinated to care for our children, but my heart is troubled. Name Withheld
Appiah first wrote a pair of paragraphs to dispel the idea that mandatory vaccination is a racist policy despite skepticism of the medical establishment being prevalent among minorities.
“Requiring someone who cares for your child to be vaccinated is not necessarily an expression of white supremacy,” Appiah concluded before suggesting potential termination.
“Beyond this, the risk calculus is complicated in the current phase of the pandemic,” Appiah wrote. “COVID seldom poses a serious risk to young children without other health impairments, while Omicron infections among boosted adults have mainly been on the milder side.”
Despite correctly noting that children face a low risk of COVID complications, Appiah still recommended they contemplate letting the babysitter go after a frank discussion.
“There are risks for your children in starting out with new minders; you do not have reason to trust them as fully as someone you’ve known for a while,” Appiah wrote. “Confronting this issue starts with more conversation. … If you’ve already discussed all this with her to no avail, you may feel that the risks to your family are still high enough that you can no longer employ her.”
Firing the babysitter for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, however, will not serve the family much purpose, especially when they themselves have almost certainly been vaccinated judging by their submission. Children still face minimal risk from COVID comparable to the risk presented by influenza.
If immunocompromising conditions that would severely heighten the threat of COVID-19 were present (though they likely would have been mentioned), then there may be a reason to have no babysitter involved whatsoever, regardless of vaccination status. In December, Drs. Harvey Risch, Robert Malone, and Byram Bridle, three leading experts in epidemiology and immunology, broke down why “Forcing People Into COVID Vaccines Ignores Important Scientific Information” for The Federalist.
“Rapidly waning vaccine efficacy and COVID-19 surges in countries and regions with high vaccination rates — including Israel, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and now Europe, as well as high-vaccination U.S. states like Vermont — are evidence that vaccinated individuals can spread COVID-19 at rates comparable to the unvaccinated,” they wrote. “Multiple studies have shown that viral load in vaccinated individuals with COVID-19 is the same as in the unvaccinated.”
The family’s COVID exposure, then, is far more dependent on their own level of community engagement as opposed to the medical decisions of their babysitter.