If you want to know whether someone you’re planning on spending time with has gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, you shouldn’t feel bad about asking, according to etiquette experts.
Unlike many other pieces of health-related information, which are typically kept private in polite company, there’s no shame in wanting to know whether people you’re close with have gotten the vaccine, according to etiquette expert Elaine Swann.
“We should not be afraid to ask the question,” Swann told USA TODAY. That’s because the vaccination status of a person can have health impacts for the people who spend time around them.
People who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can increasingly live more normal lives without putting themselves at a high risk of contracting the virus, government guidance says. But many activities are only safe if a vaccinated person is surrounded by other vaccinated people.
Vaccines are highly effective at preventing COVID-19, but “they’re not a suit of armor,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor and infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. And for people who have been vaccinated, spending time around a person who hasn’t had the vaccine can increase their risk.
That means you should know if the people you’re spending time with have gotten the vaccine or not — even if you have to ask.
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“We can’t afford not to be talking about it,” said Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert professionally known as Mister Manners. “This is not like asking someone their age.”
Considering the health impacts of the question and the wide variations in how comfortable people are with health risk, “It would be rude that this topic was taken off the table,” Farley said.
If a vaccinated person learns someone they are planning on spending time with is not vaccinated, they should take steps to reduce the risk of the situation, said Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts and author of a book about adapting to “the new abnormal” of COVID-19. Avoid indoor activities and wear a mask “for your sake and their sake,” Tsipursky advised.
Here’s some tips on how to politely learn about a friend or family member’s vaccination status, according to advice from Swann and Farley:
- Talk about yourself: The pandemic is the new weather, as far as small talk goes, Farley said. Offering details about your vaccine status or experience is an easy way to open the door for a natural conversation about the topic. Try to avoid making a big “soapbox announcement” about vaccines, Swann said.
- Ask for clarity: If small talk isn’t revealing someone’s thoughts about getting vaccinated, go ahead and ask outright. Do it privately and take care to avoid sounding accusatory in how you ask the question, Swann said.
- Set boundaries: If you and your friend or family member are on different pages, be clear about your personal comfort level. Don’t apologize if you are more comfortable spending time outside or masked — rather explain it’s a standard you have set for yourself for a limited time. “You have the right to establish that’s what you feel comfortable with,” Farley said.
- Don’t be confrontational: Asking about someone’s vaccination status so you can possibly adjust your activities is one thing — trying to convince them to change their mind about vaccines is another. There are ways of having that conversation, but in most cases the confrontation isn’t necessary.
- Be positive: It’s important to reinforce that this relationship is important to you and that you want to spend time with your friend or family member, Swann said. Saying things like “I respect your decision and I support you” can go a long way. Keeping your relationships intact should be a priority.
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