Dr. Roach: Sister insists visitors to 95-year-old dad should be vaccinated

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: I am one of four daughters, ages 69 to 61. Our dad is 95 and still lives independently, although one of us four girls comes each night to have dinner with him. He doesn’t drive anymore, and we do all of his shopping and errands for him. He is frail and has Parkinson’s disease. Our dad and three of the girls have been fully vaccinated, and those old enough have appointments for the booster.

The youngest refuses to get vaccinated. She has never received a flu shot, and a COVID vaccine is “out of the question.” She is a conspiracy theorist, does not believe in science or medicine, and says the vaccine is a nonstarter. She also told us that her seeing and being with Dad is non-negotiable.

Dr. Keith Roach

When COVID started, on her nights with Dad, she’d wear a mask around him. Once he and the rest of us got vaccinated, she quit wearing the mask and sits close to Dad. She says she can’t breathe with a mask. I tell her it’s easier to breathe with a mask than a ventilator. She is very strong-willed and Dad won’t say anything because he wants to avoid confrontation. She is not required to wear a mask at her work, and she has been traveling all over the country. Now that the delta variant is rampant, we have decided to give her an ultimatum. Get vaccinated or forfeit your time with Dad. We understand that even though Dad is vaccinated, he would most likely at his age not survive a breakthrough case. We have taken a chance for far too long. We don’t want to expose him to her (or ANYONE unvaccinated) anymore. We are not doing this to attack her or her principles. We are doing this to protect our elderly dad. Please help us decide what would be best for our dad’s health. Your thoughts, please?

— J.L.D.

Dear J.L.D: There are sure to be strong opinions about your predicament; however, my personal opinion is that you and your vaccinated sisters are correct and that the risk to your father right now is too great. I would not allow her to visit without being vaccinated. Any person with her travel history (and possible exposure) should also either wear a mask or be tested for COVID-19 IN ADDITION TO vaccination before visiting your dad.

I am afraid there are many people who believe what your youngest sister believes, as I get letters every day from people with similar beliefs. Although it isn’t always comfortable breathing through a mask, nurses, physicians, and other health care professionals have been doing so every day now for almost two years.

I can’t say whether your dad would survive a case of COVID-19. I have had patients in their 90s do so. However, his risk would be very high, especially considering his frailty. I realize this will cause stress in your family, but in my opinion, the risk to his health is too great.

Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.