Media Criticism

Mom Won't Let Her Vaccinated 15-Year-Old Go to Summer Camp, and Slate Agrees

A bad response from the magazine's parental advice column


Michelle Herman is Slate's parental advice columnist. Earlier this week, she answered a letter from a mother who was worried about sending her 15-year-old daughter to summer camp.

Importantly, the teen is fully vaccinated, but the mom is concerned because they "live in an area where many people aren't getting vaccinated—mostly by idiotic choice—and neither the camp nor the college is requiring proof of vaccination."

"Nor is there a mask mandate!" added the mom.

This fear is understandable: COVID-19 is a terrible disease that has claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans. Government authorities discouraged nearly all social interaction for a year in order to slow the spread of this disease, and many people are just beginning to feel comfortable seizing the reins of normal life again.

Herman thus occupies an ideal position as a knowledgable expert; she could have empathized with the mom while explaining that it is completely safe for her vaccinated teenager to attend summer camp. But that's now how she responded:

You are not being ridiculous. Teenagers are at greater risk than was previously thought, as this story in the New York Times and this one in the Washington Post make clear. If the camp is not requiring that all attendees be vaccinated—and, good lord, not requiring masks either—then you should not let her go.

This is misleading. (Arguably, it constitutes misinformation.) Whether or not teenagers are at "greater risk" than previously thought—and keep in mind, U.S. coronavirus deaths in the under-18 age group total about 300, vs. 600,000 overall—is irrelevant to the mother's question. Her kid is vaccinated, and vaccinated teenagers are at no statistical risk whatsoever. The vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe illness, eliminate the chance of death almost entirely, and make transmission very unlikely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been very clear on this: Director Rochelle Walensky has said that individuals who are fully vaccinated do not need to engage in social distancing or mask-wearing because they are safe from COVID-19. It doesn't matter if they are surrounded by unvaccinated people. Those people are still at risk; the vaccinated are not.

Herman's outrage that a summer camp would not require masks is misplaced, and counter to the CDC's own guidance, which was recently softened. Masks are a precautionary measure for the unvaccinated, not something that everyone must wear for the rest of their lives.

The mother who wrote the letter expressed concern that her daughter would hate her forever if she refused to authorize the camping trip. The teen should probably redirect some of that anger at Slate magazine.