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Parental Advisory: Can I Ask My Anti-vaccination Sister to Keep Her Kids at Home?

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This week’s question is topical (though, to be fair, when isn’t vaccination topical?), and it comes to us from Twitter.


Image: STFU Parents


Considering vaccination was the subject of an article just last week titled “Trump energizes the anti-vaccine movement in Texas,” I would say this question is not only relevant, but perhaps frighteningly so. An excerpt from that story says, “The battle comes at a time when increasing numbers of Texas parents are choosing not to immunize their children because of ‘personal beliefs.’ Measles was eliminated in the United States more than 15 years ago, but the highly contagious disease has made a return in recent years, including in Texas, in part because of parents refusing to vaccinate their children. A 2013 outbreak in Texas infected 21 people, many of them unvaccinated children.” And in the state of Texas, “personal-belief exemptions increased from 2,314 in the 2003-2004 school year to 44,716 in 2015-2016.” That leads me to think a few things, Purple Tweeter.

First, I think that even though you’re probably overwhelmed with wedding-related details right now, at some point in the future, if you haven’t already, you should consider having a chat — or perhaps a third, or 13th chat — with your sister about her decisions. Show her the statistics. Help her to understand that her kids aren’t more important than other kids, and in fact she’s doing them a great disservice by assuming their bodies aren’t vulnerable to disease. Show her pictures of the measles and explain that this was a kid who was healthy, who didn’t need to experience such pain, whose parents shouldn’t have had to treat a disease that was preventable. Make sure the picture is recent. Even though Googling will provide you with plenty of examples, here. Let me offer you one posted by a personal friend of mine whose son has Type-1 diabetes:

Image: STFU Parents

But moving past the main issue of your sister being anti-vaxx and having two children who aren’t vaccinated, let’s discuss your wedding question. Obviously, one quick and easy way to solve this problem is to implement a strict no-kids policy, which would extend to your sister’s kids. You would just have to gently explain, as many couples do, that as much as you’d love for the kids to be there running around and being adorable, you can’t make exceptions because it wouldn’t be fair to your other parent friends and relatives.

This can be a touchy situation without any mention of the anti-vaxx movement because some people are offended when their kids aren’t invited to weddings even if they’re not the bride’s sister. Plus, your sister may complain that she doesn’t have the extra money to pay for a babysitter after going through all the trouble of attending your wedding. For the sake of keeping the peace and protecting your sanity, not to mention your guests’ immune systems, I would offer to pay for the babysitter yourself if she brings up money, assuming that she is in fact spending money on a dress, helping you decorate, traveling, and/or extending herself in some way. It may help you to side-step this fevered scenario without ruffling any feathers, and that’s always helpful when smoothing out wedding predicaments.

That said, many people do choose to have kids at their wedding, and if even one other kid is allowed to be there, your sister will feel entitled to bring her kids as well. In that case, I think the only real option is to tell her not to bring the kids. You can explain this in myriad ways by trying to be “respectful,” or you can flat-out say what’s on your mind, although that may not go over very well.

Image: STFU Parents

The thing to take into account here is that your sister’s unvaccinated kids are a threat not only to other children and babies who may be too young to receive certain vaccinations, but also to pregnant guests, elderly guests and people recovering from diseases such as cancer. No one should be worried on his or her wedding day that a child is spreading germs and preventable diseases to people who are immunocompromised. There’s too much stress as it is to be concerning yourself with something so serious. A wedding day disaster should be an overpriced, multitiered cake toppling to the floor, not a recovering cancer patient picking up an illness or infection from an unvaccinated child.

And as the article about Texas points out, a third of students at some private schools now are unvaccinated. (Several other states report similar findings.) This means that, in some cases, kids are at an even greater risk of contracting and spreading germs. In the case of your wedding, it is your responsibility to your guests to prevent something like that from happening.

Part of what makes weddings so special is the intergenerational element. When I got married, my 93-year-old grandmother flew 1,000 miles to be there. I never would have felt comfortable with other guests bringing their unvaccinated children (even if that guest was my sister), but I would have felt downright horrible if it had somehow resulted in my grandmother or my friend’s newborn (who made a brief appearance) getting sick.

This goes beyond a general disdain for “chicken pox parties.” It’s an inappropriate setting for unvaccinated kids to be in. And while I also believe unvaccinated kids shouldn’t be in schools, playgrounds, grocery stores, amusement parks or Chuck E. Cheese’s, I have no jurisdiction over those places. The one thing I could control on the day of the wedding was who was going to be there, and that’s something every bride and/or groom should embrace.

Tell your sister that you’re concerned that her unvaccinated kids could be carrying germs that might put another guest at risk. Cite the article about Texas that reports that “in 2013, Texas experienced the largest outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, since 1959: nearly 4,000 cases. Five newborns who were too young to be vaccinated died.” Remind her that you care deeply about her presence at your wedding, but you can’t absorb more stress with regard to your guests’ health. Be honest.

Hopefully, she’ll understand that choosing not to vaccinate does come with consequences and she won’t be upset. But if she is, try to be prepared for it. If you plan on having kids, it might be better to discuss all of this now anyway. It’s going to come out one way or another. I used to roll my eyes at parents for insisting that every single person their newborn comes into contact with receives an MMR booster, but I might be letting up on that. After all, who’s crazier: the person who’s paranoid enough to believe her baby could come down with whooping cough in 2017 or the growing number of parents who are choosing not to believe science and put their kids and others at risk?

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Image: STFU Parents

Whatever happens, I hope you have a wonderful wedding. Congratulations on your marriage, and good luck with your delusional sister. With any luck, and a whole lot of well-researched proof, she’ll come around on this dangerous anti-vaxx stance and you can all live happily ever after, free of total-body skin rashes and highly contagious disease.

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