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Big Bird shouldn’t flap into my family’s COVID vaccination decisions

Let’s leave the discussion about vaccinating children to families and medical professionals, not Muppets

Big Bird attends Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary.
Sesame Street’s Big Bird participates in the ceremonial lighting of the Empire State Building in honor of “Sesame Street’s” 50th anniversary on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in New York.
Evan Agostini, Invision via Associated Press

As a general rule, it’s never a good thing when Big Bird, the lovable “Sesame Street” character, makes the news. It wasn’t good when Sen. Mitt Romney was accused of trying to murder him when he ran for president (Romney wanted to end the government subsidy for PBS), and it isn’t good now when the children’s television character is flapping into the personal medical decisions of parents and guardians.

It started with a tweet:

And then President Joe Biden cheered the Bird’s announcement.

And predictably, as with most things over the course of this pandemic, everyone quickly retreated to their ideological corners and took aim.

Back in July, I wrote about the politicization of “Sesame Street.” I explained,

Those in charge of messaging and programming children’s media have positioned themselves as arbiters of our children’s moral compass. ...

Parents should take note: The aim of children’s media is no longer just to provide free, education-minded babysitting while you get ready for work. Parents who want to remain the guiding force in their kids’ moral upbringing should opt-out of kids’ media produced in the last decade or so and invest in some vintage “Sesame Street.” The screen may not be in HD and the latest celebrity guest stars may be dated, but at least you know you can walk out of the room for a quick shower.

Just as “Sesame Street” isn’t content with allowing parents the freedom to guide their children’s own moral compass, so too are they uncomfortable with the idea of parents making individual risk assessments for their children’s health and safety. There is a moral absolutism necessary to be part of the left, which is where “Sesame Street’s” writers appear to fall. The messaging on COVID-19 vaccination has become yet another absolutist position.

Big Bird’s tweet doesn’t exist just on Twitter. It’s part of a larger campaign from the series to “educate” parents on the vaccine.

It’s part of a pressure campaign being waged on children to then push their parents into vaccinating them. Parents from around the country have reached out to me privately and publicly about how their kids’ teachers and schools are trying to influence this family medical decision. These are the kinds of stories being shared:

There’s a peer pressure element to this dynamic as well.

The risk differentials between children, teenagers, adults and the elderly are incredibly stratified, and immunizing children against COVID-19 is very much not the same thing as immunizing them against other childhood illnesses, like the measles. According to recent reporting:

So far, about half of kids 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated in the U.S., compared with nearly 70% of Americans 18 and older. Pediatricians expect it will be even harder to persuade skeptical parents of younger children to get their kids inoculated. Many are concerned about the potential unknowns of a relatively new vaccine compared with the low risk of serious illness covid poses for children.

A recent poll from KFF found 27% of parents of children 5 to 11 said they plan to get them vaccinated “right away,” while 30% said they would “definitely not” get the vaccine for their 5- to 11-year-olds. More than three-quarters of parents of children in this age group reported they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that not enough is known about the long-term effects of the vaccine in kids.

The resentment parents feel about these interferences in their children’s health care is real, and continued efforts along the lines that schools and children’s media are only going to grow it.

The caricature of parents angry about the Big Bird COVID tweet is that they’re “triggered” or “anti-vaxx.” That’s not the basis for our frustration with Big Bird flexing his wings into our personal space. We know where to find sound medical advice. And it’s not from a yellow Muppet.