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Relationships I’m pregnant, but my husband’s ex is an anti-vaxxer. How do I keep their son away from my newborn?

The question

My husband and I are expecting our baby in two weeks and it’s been a dilemma and fight because his 11-year-old son from a previous marriage isn’t fully vaccinated. He got his first few as a newborn and then they split and his mom is anti-vax. Now I’m the bad guy of the family because I’m requesting his son not be around our newborn, including not coming to our house for the first year. It’s caused friction between my husband and me and his family because I’m not allowing his kid to come to our house or be around his future brother, and his defence is that “He doesn’t have it” or “What’s the difference from you taking the baby out in public?” Please help.

I might be a dad. Should I support the child even though I’m not certain of being the father?

Why do I feel guilty for breaking up with a toxic friend?

I moved abroad for love, but left my dream job behind. Which one do I choose?

The answer

Maybe it’s a strong statement, and I know some might disagree, but I do believe vaccination is a moral obligation.

I don’t know how many have heard the term “herd immunity” (coined in 1923). Unfortunately, to me it’s a bit of an infelicitous phrase and probably plays right into the world-view of anti-vaxxers (“Oh so you just want to follow the herd and get vaccinated with no knowledge of how it causes autism or all the crazy stuff they put in vaccines like mercury and aluminum” and so on.)

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But it’s an important concept. If I may quote from Wikipedia: “If herd immunity has been established and maintained in a population for a sufficient time, the disease is inevitably eliminated … If elimination is achieved worldwide and the number of cases is permanently reduced to zero, then a disease can be declared eradicated.“

Eradication of a disease? Sounds like a good goal to me. We’re getting there with polio, which was a terrible scourge and highly contagious, leading to polio “epidemics,” which entailed all kinds of horrors, including people in wheelchairs and having their breathing assisted with (anyone remember?) “iron lungs.”

Polio vaccine more or less (but not quite, unfortunately) “eradicated” it.

And we’re getting there with measles, although there have been outbreaks here in Canada, and in the United States – partly through pockets of anti-vaxxers keeping that one alive.

(Although an outbreak of this easily preventable disease happened at Disneyland a few years ago, causing some people and schools to rethink their position.)

The point is: If you don’t vaccinate your kid, you put the whole herd at risk and that’s not fair to the herd.

We humans like to think of ourselves as such radical individualists, but as Yuval Noah Harari pointed out in his excellent book Sapiens, it’s really our ability to co-operate (e.g. form corporations involving tens of thousands of people) that’s led to us being the dominant species on the planet, over much fiercer, faster and more savage creatures.

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So get your husband to co-operate. Use whatever tools you have in your kit (only you can know what those are) but hopefully, he will ultimately see reason and, as they say, “not want to die on that hill.”

After all, what does it hurt him to have his 11-year-old son vaccinated? “What’s the upside, what’s the downside?” as my wife is wont to say.

Upside: Kid gets vaccinated and thus is less prone to disease. Other upside: Your unborn child is less likely to come to harm.

(Babies take a while to develop their immune systems as I’m sure you are aware.)

Downside: Huh, I really can’t think of one. Not for you or your husband or his son or your right-around-the-corner baby.

Of course, getting the mom to come around might be a bit more of a rabbit-out-the-hat-type trick to pull off.

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She’s a) his ex and b) an anti-vaxxer, which is kind of a double whammy.

But still I think he should stand a) by you and b) up to her. I don’t understand this guff about “He doesn’t have it” (I wasn’t 100-per-cent sure what was meant here: measles?) and “What’s the difference between this and going out in public?” It’s weak and I don’t think he should be selling it.

Why’s he taking sides with his ex-wife against you anyway? Even if he were right, which in my opinion he is not, he should man up and back you up – especially when it comes to questions of the safety and health of your unborn child.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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