Ask me about my vaccination status and I’ll ask you which one. Since I like to travel, I’ve gotten a lot of vaccinations as an adult, and getting another jab to protect myself from yet another deadly disease is just as standard as making sure I’ve packed toothpaste and underwear for a trip — no big deal.
Though getting vaccinated for COVID-19 was a no-brainer for me, many people have health issues hiding in the background, out of sight to some friends and family, that could be making them wait to get the shot. Others are hesitant for a variety of reasons, like not having paid sick time to deal with side effects, or not having a trusted healthcare provider to go to with questions. And some still say they’re not going to get vaccinated at all.
It’s quite the mix right now, and as we start making post-vaccination plans to get together, checking in with friends and family to ask whether someone is vaccinated against COVID-19 can be awkward to navigate. Fortunately, etiquette experts and psychologists are offering some guidance for these conversations.
Let Friends Know You’re Vaccinated Against COVID-19
It feels like the COVID vaccine is all my friends talk about lately. “Did you get it? Which one did you get?” And the biggest question: “Did you have side effects?” I’ve probably been too forthcoming while swapping stories because I’ve told everyone about a lymph node in my neck swelling up for four weeks after getting the yellow fever vaccine. (That experience helped me not worry over the swollen lymph node in my armpit — a side effect that’s giving some false positives on mammograms — that popped up after my first COVID vaccine dose.)
But when it comes to planning return-to-normal activities, being forthcoming is a good idea. The Washington Post interviewed Miss Manners, whose real name is Judith Martin, about discussing one’s vaccine status with others. She said “the kindest thing” is to let your friend know you’re vaccinated.
“You should make it easy for people to find out without prying and, certainly, without delivering sermons,” Martin told the Post.
Some people are posting vaccination selfies on social media, too, which is another way to deliver the message. Keep in mind, though, that all of your friends and family might not see it, so you may want to mention it if you’re planning to get together in person. If you do post a vaccine selfie on social media, make sure no personal information, such as your vaccination card, is visible in your photos.
Why Are You Asking Whether Someone Is Vaccinated Against COVID-19?
If your friend or family member hasn’t volunteered the info, you might feel the need to ask. But before you do, consider why you’re asking about someone’s vaccination status in the first place. Are you going to see this person face to face, or are you just curious … and being nosy?
“Start by asking yourself why you need to have that information,” Dr. Philip Muskin, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told “Today.” “It might be practical.”
A practical reason is to assess risk for your own health and well-being and your family’s — and that’s worth mentioning so the other person knows why you’re asking. For example, let’s say you’re hoping to host a small birthday party for your child this spring. You might be planning to have the party outside, but if spring showers come through, you could have to make a decision about whether to move the party indoors. According to current CDC guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, an unmasked gathering indoors with other vaccinated people is OK, but that’s not the case for those who are unvaccinated.
When you ask, be prepared for avoidance or a no, and be willing to state that you’re going to stick to the guidelines your family is following.
Ask About COVID Vaccination Status In Private
Etiquette pros say we should definitely ask this question privately.
“If you put someone on the spot in front of other people, it may not turn out well,” Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, told Prevention.
Sometimes our communications via text don’t go the way we intended. But for this question, psychotherapist Haley Neidich told Prevention that texting could be a good idea because it can give you time to choose your words carefully, and it gives the other person time to react and respond, too.
That said, if you’re worried about your tone coming across wrong, just pick up the phone and call, Swann said.
Have Compassion For Your Friend, No Matter Their Response
It feels like there’s a mind-blowing amount of information coming out about COVID every day. For example: Just the other day, I read about cancer survivors whose immune systems were wiped out by their treatments. Though they were vaccinated, it didn’t take — their cancer treatment left their bodies unable to produce antibodies to fend off the disease.
Before you judge a friend or family member for not getting vaccinated yet, consider that they might have hidden health issues that you didn’t know about that could be making their decision to get the vaccine much more complicated than yours.
“Understand that people approach this from different vantage points with different kinds of information,” the American Psychological Association’s Lynn Bufka told USA Today. “There could be reasons (for not getting the vaccine yet) that we never thought of.”