Gavin Roberts is just like any kid who just wants to hang out with his friends. But as this 12th birthday approaches, he didn't want a gift other children might ask for; he wanted to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I kept asking him what he wanted for his birthday. He was always saying it’s the vaccine, we’re going to get that," said Gavin's mother, Alice Roberts, who granted him his birthday wish on Sunday.
Gavin's present might seem strange for a 12-year-old but it was influenced by the family's own devastating experience with the toll of the novel coronavirus. The respiratory disease killed his dad last year, early on in the pandemic.
"On April 21st he collapsed from covid," Gavin recalled. "He stayed in the hospital for about three weeks then on May 11th we let him go."
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Charles Roberts, a Glen Ridge police officer, was just 45 years old. He took the virus seriously and was apparently in good health when he was infected, but the three available vaccines were still a work in progress at the time. COVID-19 testing was also sparse.
Gavin's mother, an elementary school teacher, and his two older sisters got the vaccine as soon as they were eligible. With only half of all Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a growing number of children Gavin's age and younger are getting infected with the delta variant and the Roberts family say they hope their story will prevent others from experiencing the same tragedy.
"Throughout this whole experience, we’ve felt that if we can turn a really sad, horrible moment in our lives into something that can help people we want to do that," Roberts said. "We see the only way out of this pandemic is to get as many vaccinated as possible."
Gavin remembered his father as a kind and caring man. He says his father's death was very hard to go through and hopes that people see that it's preventable with the vaccine.
"By seeing us, hopefully it personalizes it for people and it’s a real thing and it really happened to us. We’re not paid actors. It really happened and it can happen to anyone," Roberts added.