A Vaccine or My Family: Children of Anti-vaxers Caught in the Middle

When she went to get her first dose of the vaccine, Anya, 27, told her parents she was going to get her Friday fix of samosas and rasmalai from Bharat Bazaar, the local Indian store. Her parents (family friends of mine) whom she was staying with, in Yuba City—while working remotely —believe that Covid 19 vaccines are “manufactured by the deep state” and that “when 5G gets turned on, it will kill everyone.”

“When they found out I was even thinking about getting it, they cried and legitimately thought I’d be dead in three years,” said Anya. So Anya decided to get the shot in secret. “I almost got caught,” she recalls. Getting the shot took quite some time and adding on the time to get groceries made my trip “seem extremely long.”

While Anya was more careful in scheduling her second dose, making up an excuse that she was meeting a colleague for lunch in San Francisco, the side effects she experienced afterward presented a challenge.

“I first felt nauseous, then I got a fever, followed by fatigue, and the next day, around 3 a.m., severe chills. These were the worst chills I ever felt. I could not get warm and I was afraid I’d have to go to the hospital. I finally started reciting the Gayatri Mandir—the chant of my childhood, which Mummy had taught me as a way to keep away ghosts and nightly spirits. I had to pretend the rest of the day by sticking to my usual routine, which was completely awful.”

Anya and I are having this conversation while we’re attending a mutual acquaintance’s Sangeet—a pre-wedding musical party—at a farmhouse, where two elaborate, highly decorative, temporary pavilions have been erected. These structures resemble Bollywood film sets, with hanging tea lights and dream catchers draped over the willow trees in the garden. Anya holds the hem of her lehnga high, squeezes my elbow to say goodbye, and winds her way to the henna artist who squats on a Persian carpet, waiting to decorate the hands of the bride’s guests.

Anya is among one of the least vaccinated groups in the country, people in their 20s. There are many reasons young adults may not be getting vaccinated against Covid-19, but among the roadblocks is living with parents who believe in conspiracy theories surrounding the shots, like the belief that it is a way for the government to control the population by reducing fertility or that it contains a microchip or alters your DNA.

More young adults have been living with their parents than at any other time in recent history, and some of them have reported that they have held off entirely because they do not want to engage in that contentious discussion with their parents or lie to them.

Now, Anya is on a mission to get her younger cousins vaccinated. She turns to her cousin, Neelu, 18, who’s been sitting stone still as she gets an elaborate peacock design inked onto her hand.

Tears gather at the corner of Neelu’s almond-shaped eyes as she talks about how her Mom and Dad have bought into the whole Q-Anon thing. “I feel so much better after getting vaccinated in June. You don’t realize how the stress of possibly dying from a virus or getting someone else sick or killed affects you both mentally and physically until it’s no longer a constant worry.”

Anya rubs her dry palms together and inhales the fragrance of the mehndi. “I’m still waiting for my third arm to grow, but after five months, I’m beginning to give up hope.”

Neelu giggles, then her eyes open wide in admiration at the rich cinnamon color painted on Anya’s hands. “You know, what they say, Didi,” she teases, with a lilt in her voice, “the darker the henna, the more loving your husband will be.”

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