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'Dear Dad, It's Just A Pinch' — Readers Share Letters Inspired By Vaccine Hesitancy

Alicia Caton, left, with her father Larry, and daughter, Mia.
Larry Caton
Alicia Caton, left, with her father Larry, and daughter, Mia.

In a letter we shared last week, Baltimore-based doctor Edward Kenyi appealed to his mother, who lives in South Sudan, to get a COVID-19 vaccine. He pleaded with her to take COVID seriously and trust her son over the "rumors and stories from WhatsApp group messages" that spread false information about microchips and infertility related to vaccination.

We asked our readers to share letters they've written about vaccines to a family member or loved one. Here are three submissions that are especially poignant: a daughter urging her diabetic father to trust modern science, a woman reflecting on the moment her dear uncle became a COVID statistic, and a son thanking his father for finally getting the vaccine after cancelling many, many times.

Letters have been edited for length and clarity.

'It's just a pinch'

A letter from Alicia Lynn Caton in Puerto Natales, Chile, to her father in the U.S.

Dear Father,

I want to urge you to get vaccinated. First, for yourself because you are at high risk at 66 years old and because you have diabetes and have lost 2 toes due to bone infections that were not treatable. Second, I urge you to get vaccinated for your grandkids [in the U.S.] whom you are around almost every day — and not to mention your great grandchild who was just born just months ago. You are a mentor and role model to them each day. How are you teaching them to care for themselves and for others if you will not get vaccinated? How are you teaching them to trust science and modern medicine by believing myths or conspiracies surrounding the vaccine? How is that information more valuable than science and statistics? How could you trust vaccines from my generation or yours but not now?

Your granddaughter and I will be coming home soon after 3 years living in Chile. You will finally get to spend some incredible time with her. She is so excited. She wakes up talking about you and her trip to see you. I am scared because of the new delta variant. I know there is a possibility that this trip could be canceled due to it. I am hurt that you won't think about yourself and others and get vaccinated. I am scared that you could expose Mia or that we could expose you after traveling so far. I am trying to take every precaution necessary, but I would hope that you would do the same for yourself and for your grandchildren.

Please get vaccinated. Please think about protecting yourself and others: your family, friends, neighbors. The vaccine is free and readily available. The United States has some of the best vaccines that have been developed. How could you not appreciate this and take advantage of a privilege not all have? We got vaccinated as soon as it was available here in Puerto Natales. I never hesitated because I knew it was what I had to do for myself, my daughter and the people around me. I never doubted the quality of the vaccine or worried about anything unusual that so many people believe.

It's just a pinch.

'Tears quietly cried between Zoom meetings'

Lise Lafferty from Sydney, Australia, pays homage to her Uncle Dan and asks us all to get vaccinated.

I'm a social health researcher. In essence, I talk with people who are living with an infectious disease and learn from their stories. The work I do gives a voice — an identity — to the numbers produced by epidemiologists. My research is an opportunity to give human meaning to the statistics.

The New York Times reported 2,190 deaths in the U.S. on December 5 attributed to COVID-19. My Uncle Dan is included in that number. He is the face I know, the person who implanted the statistics firmly into my inner circle. Ironically, in his passing he brought life to the numbers.

What has been the buffer of the pandemic is that these burgeoning numbers have felt so distant. As many of us lived with few restrictions in Australia, the pandemic ravaged and raged out there. But now, as the delta variant sweeps across the globe, we are all (again) affected by COVID-19. It impacts our lifestyle, our livelihoods, our ability to embrace and be surrounded with loved ones.

We have learnt over the 18 months of this pandemic that severe illness and death are isolating; that public health measures are in place to protect the healthy; and that in efforts to reduce spread, people often die alone, perhaps with only a health-care worker by their side, a stranger compelled to be with them in their final moments.

But what I didn't realize until Uncle Dan's passing is how isolating grief is amid the pandemic. Friends and colleagues don't observe any changes in your life – for all intents and purposes, life continues as usual. Grief is compounded by the inability to gather with those closest to the deceased. The sadness becomes hidden, tears quietly cried between Zoom meetings. My uncle died before vaccines were available.

But we have the opportunity to protect our loved ones from illness, and to protect them from grief. We can get vaccinated.

'I speak for all of us when I say thank you. I love you'

A letter from Dr. Josh Williamson of Oley, Pa., thanking his dad for finally getting a vaccine.

Dear Dad,

Many people are writing letters to implore family members to get vaccinated.

I wanted to write one to you to thank you for getting your vaccine. I know how difficult your decision was. Many of your news sources frequently downplay the pandemic, vaccination success and need for mitigation measures and vaccinations.

As I look back, I couldn't believe the day you told me not to schedule you when I scheduled mom's vaccine appointment. Obviously with mom on oxygen and her history of heart disease, she is at ultra-high risk, but since you are both in your 80s, you both have a much higher risk of adding to the 600,000+ deaths we have endured in the U.S.

I cannot tell you how relieved I was at Uncle Tim's funeral when you told me to schedule your vaccine. No one can grasp how such a vital 64-year-old mountain of a man was taken down by this tiny virus.

I was equally stunned when you declined the appointment I was finally able to make 2 weeks later. Why was it taking 2 weeks for a doctor to be able to schedule a vaccine for an 80-year- old patient? I'm sure the inefficiency of the health-care system added to your suspicions about the vaccine.

After further pressure, at least 1 of your 12 grandchildren influenced you to get the vaccine. Again you canceled, but I think it was just cold feet this time. Frankly I had given up pushing you. I lacked faith that you were, as you said, truly "cancelling your appointment for the vaccine in order to get a different version."

But then you did it! Quickly and quietly at the local grocery store of all places. By that time the vaccine became available to all. Too bad Uncle Tim never got the option.

I know I speak for all of us when I say thank you. I love you.

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Suzette Lohmeyer