How To Ask Loved Ones To Get Vaccinated Before Meeting Your Newborn
I asked my loved ones to get their flu and Tdap vaccines before holding my newborn, and for some, it was a difficult conversation.
When my close friend had her baby in January 2020, she and her husband asked family and friends who wanted to hold their newborn to get a flu shot first. I had never even thought about what vaccines to get to be around a newborn, but her request made perfect sense. I get my flu shot every year, so I loaded up a friend who had never had one and we went together. We sent selfies to our pregnant friend showing off our red Band-Aids and telling her how excited we were to meet her baby.
Now that I’m pregnant for the first time — during a global pandemic, no less — keeping my newborn healthy when he arrives is my number one priority. So, my husband and I followed our friends’ lead and asked loved ones to get their flu shots. We also asked our parents, who no doubt will want to kiss and snuggle their grandbaby on the regular, to get Tdap boosters to protect our little guy from pertussis, or whooping cough. (Tdap is the adult tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine.)
Some of our family members made appointments at the walk-in clinic the same week. Some had already gotten their flu shots but (jokingly) said they’d go get one every day if that made us feel safe. Their support was so sweet. Others said the flu shot has made them sick before, or they’d rather not be traceable by the government tracking devices that conspiracy theorists believe to be hidden inside vaccines. Yes, they really went there.
After letting those folks know we had a firm boundary on this (and telling my husband their tinfoil hats had clearly gotten too tight), the anxiety set in. Am I overstepping by asking people to get shots? How can I even be sure everyone got them, and if I can’t, what’s the point? If they do get sick, won’t it be my fault?
Curtis Reisinger, Ph.D., psychologist and chief of the Division of Psychiatry at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center, tells Romper in an interview that expectant parents should check with their pediatricians about what’s realistic to ask of loved ones who want to hold the baby. Knowing what's recommended for your baby's health can help you feel better about your request. “In these days of PPE and concerns about contagion, include in your thinking what parameters of concern you may want to allow for. If they slather themselves in hand sanitizer, is that enough? If they maintain social distancing, is that enough? Before you decide, make sure you check with your pediatrician. Are you asking them to do more than your pediatrician or their staff do? If so, maybe the problem is bigger than the other person’s beliefs.”
Bethany Atkins, M.D. is a board-certified pediatrician with Baptist Pediatrics and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. In an interview with Romper, she says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agree that both the flu shot and Tdap booster are important for those who will be around newborn babies. “During flu season, they should have a flu vaccine for this season. Anybody who wants to be around the baby for the first two months of life needs to have a Tdap. Most adults only need to get it once, so if family members get it once with their first grandchild, niece, or nephew, they should be good. For new parents, I explain that the first dose of DTaP we give the baby is only about 50% effective, so they’re not really covered for the first six months of life.”
Babies can’t receive their own flu shot until they’re 6 months old, or get that 50% effective DTaP shot (the children’s version of Tdap) until 2 months of age. Thankfully, people who receive these shots while pregnant pass some protection on to their babies. Atkins says that with the vaccines given during pregnancy, the vast majority confer immunity across the placenta. “Those antibodies last for two to six months after the baby is born. That’s the reason we’ve finally gotten a handle on pertussis in newborns.”
Atkins says she knows more and more people are choosing to put off or avoid vaccinations, whether they've had a bad experience with shots before or believe they're unhealthy in some way. So, when asking those folks to get their shots, Julia Garrett, PsyD, psychologist at Baptist Health, says it’s all about standing firm in your boundaries. "Pick a time to have this discussion when things are relatively calm and stress-free," Garrett says in an interview with Romper. "Stick to your guns when someone wants to argue by using 'I' or 'we' statements versus 'you' statements. 'We feel concerned about the health of our family this season and want to make sure we are doing our best to protect ourselves, our family, and others.' Stay calm and measured if the situation becomes tense. Utilize the three Cs of assertive communication."
Garrett says those Cs are:
- Confident – Have confidence in your ability to manage a situation and in your values and rights.
- Clear – Make certain to deliver the message in a clear and easy-to-understand manner.
- Controlled – Deliver your message in a calm and controlled manner.
Reisinger adds that the best way to approach this conversation is with curiosity. “It is most important that you hear them out and be curious about their beliefs, like where they first learned about their concern,” he says. “Keep asking questions. Exhaust all of their worries and concerns. You can diffuse most arguments by pursuing more from them and not arguing or antagonizing them with your counterarguments.”
When it came to the literal conspiracy theorists in the family, I tried to avoid arguing about vaccines and focus on my goal: I want my baby to be safe and not get sick, while still allowing family all the baby snuggles they want. Reisinger says making the issue personal instead of a larger debate about vaccines can help both sides open up. “Listeners are more likely to listen if you steer away from too many facts to start. ‘I am really concerned about my baby. I’m so afraid they may catch something, especially as I introduce her or him to others. I do not want to hurt my friends' or family members' feelings if I refuse them personal contact with my baby. Can you tell me, since we are on the topic, would you consider getting vaccinated?'” he says.
Reisinger says you can even offer to cover the cost of vaccinations, if you’re able. Whatever the response, it’s important to start these conversations early — for more than one reason.
“The earlier you talk about it, the better,” says Atkins. “Those vaccines in adults take about two weeks to build immunity. Planning ahead also allows you to have more conversations and let them do any research.”
If your family member or friend is totally opposed to getting vaccines, Reisinger says the best response is to hold your boundary, but lovingly. “Remind them what you said earlier, that you do not want to offend them as you value your relationship. ‘So, if I refuse to have you hold my baby, accept my apology now. I really do not want to offend you.’”
Next on the list of tough topics my husband and I have to broach with family: COVID precautions around the baby. Atkins says, fortunately, newborns don’t seem to be high-risk, but it’s best to take precautions.
“I know a lot of grandparents are going and getting tested — PCR testing is the gold standard if you decide to get one. Take precautions, have no parent guilt, and do whatever you need to do for you and the other parent to feel comfortable," Atkins says. "If you’re more laissez-faire, just use common sense. Wash your hands. Don’t take the baby out in public. As pediatricians, the thing we worry most about are the things we know we can protect them from, like pertussis and the flu.”
Bethany Atkins, M.D., board-certified pediatrician with Baptist Pediatrics and Wolfson Children’s Hospital
Curtis Reisinger, Ph.D., psychologist and Chief of Division of Psychiatry at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center
Julia Garrett, PsyD, psychologist at Baptist Health