Dr. Tererai Trent and her husband Mark break into dance in their Lancaster, Virginia kitchen, celebrating their second COVID19 vaccination.
Are you vaccinated? Many of us want to know, but we aren’t quite sure how to ask.
And though it’s a seemingly simple question – whether you’re asking before going on a date with someone new or planning a long-awaited hang-out with friends – it can feel uncomfortable to drop into your conversation.
“I may have to start keeping a tally of the awkward conversations I have when I ask people if they have gotten vaccinated,” user @lobbychic tweeted.
Experts say the awkwardness comes from multiple factors, including the polarizing opinions the pandemic has surfaced.
“Not everyone places the same value on being vaccinated… there are people who are quite clear that they do not want to be vaccinated,” said Lynn F. Bufka, the American Psychological Association‘s senior director of practice transformation and quality.
Other factors that make the question awkward include the varying access to vaccines as well as specific medical conditions that may make someone eligible.
“These medical conditions may be personal and not obvious to others,” said David Harari, a psychiatrist at K Health. For example, Harari noted that someone who was eligible through pregnancy or smoking may not be ready to share that with their family or friends.
It also feels deeply personal to some people.
“There are a lot of beliefs and emotions tied into decision making, so know that whenever you ask about the decisions that others make, you are asking them to expose their inner workings,” explained Andreas Michaelides, chief of psychology at Noom.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask, especially if you are planning to see others without masks. Per the latest CDC guidelines, those who have received a full course of COVID-19 vaccine may get together with other fully vaccinated individuals in small groups inside their homes without masks or physical distancing. They can visit with unvaccinated people from one other household who are at low risk for severe disease.
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Some have no shame asking those around them their vaccine status. “My new greeting is hello, have you been vaccinated. 🤷🏽♀️” user @Tnate42 tweeted.
And many people have been proactive about announcing their vaccinations on social media. Furthermore, some are indicating their vaccine status on their dating profiles.
“The biggest flex someone has on their dating profile is saying that they got the vaccine,” user @jasmisn__ tweeted.
But, if it’s not been made clear, how do you ask?
How to ask if someone’s been vaccinated
For business situations, like booking a hairdressing appointment or hiring a babysitter, Bufka suggests prefacing it with some context before asking, straight up, “are you vaccinated?”
“I’d like to know what kind of safety precautions might be in place,” she said. “I’ve been vaccinated… Could you tell me about what’s happening where you are?”
For family and friends, make your safety boundaries clear.
“Understand what the current public health recommendations are in this space, and make a determination about what your household has determined is OK,” she said. For example, you could say, “Our practice is such and such. Could you let us know then, are you vaccinated or not?”
That tactic can take the pressure off of one particular person and makes it clear that these boundaries apply to anyone outside of the home.
If you’d like to naturally ease into the conversation, Michaelides suggests sharing your own status first.
“Start by saying that you received the vaccine or are relieved to have received it when you deem it’s appropriate,” he said. “By being the sharer, you might be able to instantly tell if the person doesn’t feel comfortable and changes the topic of conversation.”
Harari adds that it can be helpful to explain why it’s important for you to know this information, such as if their status may alter your plans or behavior.
He also suggests using inclusive, non-accusatory language.
“For example, saying, ‘You’re vaccinated, right?’ may imply that you expect the other person to be vaccinated when they may not be, and they may shy away from answering your question truthfully,” Harari said.
Things to remember when you ask
Be aware you might not get the answer you want: “People should kind of go in with that understanding then that they might not be hearing what they expect to hear,” Bufka said.
Try not to be judgmental: “Understand that people approach this from different vantage points with different kinds of information,” Bufka said. “There could be reasons (for not getting the vaccine yet) that we never thought of.”
Michaelides added, “Be sympathetic towards the people you are asking, as you may not be fully aware of what they’ve been through in the past year or if they’ve had trouble getting the vaccine.”
If they haven’t been vaccinated… If your vaccination question is met with a response you’re not hoping for, Bufka suggests staying within your boundaries by offering safe options or alternatives for a different date.
“Whether it’s a family member or a friend, ‘I’d like to be able to see you. I’d be happy to meet you outside or XYZ,’ ” she suggests. “Or, ‘we can re-visit this if the guidance from the health department changes,’ so that it’s not necessarily end of the deal.”
If you’re met with a “no” from your babysitter, contractor or other business person, Bufka says you can convey that “today’s decision is not the decision for the rest of time.”
For example, “We’d love to have you babysit in the future, but we’re going to wait. For us, it’s really important to make sure our children are not exposed,” she advised.
Don’t feel bad: Though these conversations can be uncomfortable, Bufka says there isn’t anything to feel guilty about.
“People need to make decisions that are right for their personal well being and comfort,” she added. “This is about personal health and public health.”
Similar logic applies to asking a sexual partner about sexually transmitted diseases.
“We can’t roll it back if we’ve had the encounter, if we had the potential exposure, so it’s far better to ask the question ahead of time so that you can be making as fully informed a decision as you can,” she said.
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