What It's Like to Be the Only Person in My Family Who Got the COVID-19 Vaccine

Woman wearing a mask on the bus, wearing a band-aid

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

I come from a family that turns to holistic healing methods before trying Western ones. I've gladly taken part in this mindset and am a public proponent of natural healing and wellness. In many ways, my family's perspective has been a godsend for me. Specifically, the knowledge and help from my parents and sister enabled me to get over two severe chronic illnesses, both of which doctors told me I would never fully recover from. Thanks to holistic modalities, I spent the first half of my 30s laid up and have been healthy for nearly a decade since then.

Along with our communal focus on natural healing, my family has always been one that also believes in science. For example, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, the oncologist informed her that the cancer had progressed too much to try a natural treatment that may or may not work. Trusting the doctor's expertise, my mother went through chemotherapy and has been cancer-free since.

You can imagine, then, how surprised I was when the vaccine for COVID-19 became available in 2021, and I was the only one in my family to get inoculated. I was even more taken aback when my family members were actively against me getting it.

My Family Dynamic

Growing up, my family was an unusual one. My parents stopped eating meat in the mid-1980s, long before vegetarianism became trendy, and my mother avoided cooking with processed foods like refined sugar.

It was so difficult to obtain healthy, whole foods in rural new England during this time that my mother ran a co-op out of our basement. She regularly received wholesale deliveries of ingredients, which she then divided with other local people who were also healthy foodies. She called this business "The Conglomerate," and as a child, a 20-pound glass container of pinto beans or wild rice was a common sight on our shelves.

When I was 20, my father was diagnosed with type II diabetes. Instead of taking medication, he chose to manage his disease through diet and lifestyle. This proved successful for nearly two decades, and even once his diabetes had progressed enough in recent years to require medication, he was able to take much less than normal thanks to his lifestyle mechanisms.

I have one sister, and we've both held complex feelings about our upbringing. With her own children, my sister tried to create a balance between having healthy offspring and allowing them to experience simple kid-things we never got to, like gumball machines. In more recent years, though, she began shifting towards conspiracy theory. And she's taken my mom along for the ride.

My family has been endlessly proud of me for my work in advocating natural healing. I would never have gotten well had I taken Western medicine suggestions for my illnesses, and I continue to believe strongly that when possible, natural treatments should be tried first. But then we entered a global pandemic, and I realized that sometimes, that just isn't an option.

Why No One Else Got The Vaccine

I lined up as early as possible to get vaccinated, using the food handler's permit that I have for my private chef work to get quick access. There was so much about COVID that I was deathly afraid of: it causes heart issues, and I have a leaky, bicuspid aortic valve; it causes brain problems, and I've recovered from brain damage so serious I once had an Alzheimer's diagnosis from Cedars-Sinai; and it can lead to chronic fatigue, and I've long since recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

My parents were clear that they would not be following the same path. They live in a tiny, rural town, rarely go out, and didn't believe their lives put them at high enough risk to consider it. They're in their late 70s, though, and elderly people with diabetes are a particularly high-risk group.

I would never have gotten well had I taken Western medicine suggestions for my illnesses, and I continue to believe strongly that when possible, natural treatments should be tried first. But then we entered a global pandemic, and I realized that sometimes, that just isn't an option.

When we discussed my receiving the vaccine, my father told me that if he were in my shoes—living in a large city, with the past illnesses I've had—he would have done the same. My mother did not feel that, though, and my sister feared for my life. She believes that everyone who got the vaccine will die within two years, that the virus is a global conspiracy, and that the vaccine affects fertility. If this sounds strange to you, it shouldn't: 43% of the world's population believe conspiracy theories about the vaccine.

How the Vaccine Disagreement Impacted My Relationships

At first, I thought this disparity was one we would never be able to move past. And then I realized how outrageously lucky I was that my family and I agreed on as much as we have until this point. I'm a liberal Democrat, and so are my parents. I lean further left, but politics are huge when it comes to strife between family members, and I've never had to deal with that too much. In every way they've had to, such as accepting me being queer, my parents have stepped up and embraced more current viewpoints when needed, even if it wasn't comfortable for them.

Once I realized how incredibly fortunate I was to be 40-something before my family and I ever had a major disagreement about current events, I could step back a bit from my disappointment on this topic. That doesn't mean it scares me any less that my parents may contract COVID, of course. It just means that it no longer feels like a barrier we can't get past, and I no longer feel as frustrated with my inability to change their minds.

I try to accept it as one of the ways that families commonly don't see eye to eye, instead.

We Move Forward Despite This Disparity

As the saying goes, you don't choose your family. Considering all the options of humans out there, in general, I feel like I was dealt a fabulously good hand for mine. I am so grateful that I have a mother who has always been my biggest champion, a father who is unerringly available for solving problems or offering guidance, and a sister who would go to the ends of the earth to protect me. Only 10% of Americans say that they lean on their parents when they have a problem, and that is something I've done more times in my adulthood than I could count.

It still feels weird and uncomfortable when I read statistics about COVID, such as how BIPOC communities have had less access to the vaccine, or that the outcomes of people in impoverished countries are often far worse than here, knowing that my family didn't get vaccinated. I force myself to think about how even though my parents didn't get the vaccine, they aren't in a high-risk area, and they don't go out much, so they aren't a major cause of its spread.

It has also helped to meet other people whose families didn't get vaccinated when they did. In any situation in life, hearing others share our experiences makes us feel less alone. And when I question whether I did the right thing, I have my partner and all my friends to rely on, telling me that of course, I did. Family is complex, and even if we don't agree about this very important topic, there are still countless other elements of my relationship with mine that I love.

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3 Sources
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  1. UNICEF. 43% citizens believe in a conspiracy theory regarding the concealment of information about vaccines.

  2. The Survey Center on American Life. The state of American friendship: Change, challenges, and loss.

  3. Bottan NL, Vera-Cossio DA, Hoffmann B. The Unequal Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic: Evidence from Seventeen Developing Countries. Inter-American Development Bank; 2020. doi:10.18235/0002451