COVID-Vaccine Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking About Getting the Jab

Australia still has the lowest rate of vaccination in the OECD. We’re behind for a whole host of reasons but primarily it comes down to not enough supply and confusion around how and where people are supposed to be getting them.

Still, some 6.7 million of us have already had at least one dose of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca. That’s over a quarter of our population, meaning one in four has now been jabbed.

In some circles, like the medical community, vaccination rates are much higher and for them, it might even be strange if you’re not vaccinated yet.

When COVID entered our lives it began to dictate many of our social interactions. That looks like it will be happening for some time as we start to ask our friends and family seemingly innocuous questions about inoculation.

Here’s our quick guide to the dos and don’ts of vaccine chat and why it matters what you say:

Can you ask if someone is vaccinated?

The thing about asking whether someone is vaccinated or not is that it’s kind of a personal question. Beyond the ridiculous conspiratorial debates around whether or not the vaccines are implanting us with microchips or not, it’s just not something that everyone wants to share willingly.

In the same way you wouldn’t ask why someone is going to the doctor, it’s perceived weird to ask if someone has been vaccinated.

Etiquette is about social cohesion and good grace. Steven Petrow, author of five books on the subject, says that etiquette, much like vaccines, is about putting the group above the individual. “It’s about we and not me,” he explains.

There are of course several elements to consider here. Firstly, why are you asking? If it’s simple curiosity, it might be best to leave that for the moment. People can have any number of reasons as to why they’re not vaccinated, from an underlying health condition that they might not want to disclose to a difficult situation at work.

Asking about someone’s vaccination status because you might be interacting with them is different. Those are questions that pertain to your own health and the health of those you come into contact with so there’s more valid cause for inquiry.

The best way to go about it is not to ask point black but to open the conversation so that the person you’re talking to feels comfortable disclosing that information to you.

People don’t want to feel like they’re being put on trial for something they might have little control over or good reason not to do, so bearing that in mind when having a discussion is key.

If someone appears reluctant to disclose their vaccination status to you, it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume they haven’t had the jab so you can protect yourself accordingly.

Can you talk someone into getting a vaccine?

It might be a good idea to try and prompt someone who can get vaccinated to do so but this can also be a tricky topic to discuss.

There are incredibly slim chances of someone having a bad reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine, especially if they’re under the age of 60. This doesn’t mean that everyone should go and get the vaccine just because they can and if you’ve got concerns, it’s best to talk to your GP.

For those in your life who are a little more stubborn around the vaccine for whatever reason, those conversations can be draining and risk alienating people.

You shouldn’t expect those conversations to resolve quickly. Generally, it takes a long time and a lot of discussion for someone to change their mind on a particular topic and it’s important to be respectful during those conversations.

If someone doesn’t want to talk about it and makes that clear, it’s best to drop the conversation and circle back at a later stage, if appropriate.

Instead of asking someone straight up why they haven’t been vaccinated, trying to approach the topic from a perspective of the benefits of vaccination might be a better way to go.

If you yourself have already been vaccinated, opening up the conversation to allow people to ask any questions they might have about it is another good way to try and clear up some of the fears they might have.

How to tell an unvaccinated person that you don’t want to interact with them

This one is probably going to become more relevant as the vaccine rollout progresses. Once the majority of us are vaccinated, it might get a little awkward when gathering with people who aren’t vaccinated.

You shouldn’t feel pressured to welcome someone into your home who isn’t vaccinated but spending time in places with unvaccinated people is going to be a personal decision.

Excluding an unvaccinated person from a gathering is going to be a tough decision to make but you’ll first have to understand their reasons for not being vaccinated and that involves a much broader conversation and relates to how well you know them.

You’ll need to gently explain that you yourself are not comfortable being inside in a group unless everyone is vaccinated. If you’re the host of that gathering, maybe make your vaccine preferences known at the start and people can plan accordingly.

If you’re not, and you don’t feel comfortable being in attendance, maybe sit this one out. Not every fight is one worth having and you could be at risk of losing or damaging friendships.

Dionne Gesink, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health says that dialogue is always better than conflict.

“Some people will want to call people out, but I encourage people to really invite people into conversations,” she said.

Ultimately the vaccine conversation should be motivated by a sense of care for everyone. Make sure that everyone you’re discussing these topics with knows that.

Try to avoid shaming or judging people and keep an open mind and an open heart to those with different views and different understandings. We’ll all get there in the end.

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