We consult a psychologist and infectious disease social scientist about how to ask someone if they’re vaccinated, and what to say if they say no
Times are changing and nearly two years on from the beginning of the COVID pandemic, we’re finally witnessing what life might be like living with COVID here in Australia, which brings up conversations and questions that we have probably never thought about before, but all will likely have to have at some stage – like how to ask someone if they’re vaccinated?
With record vaccination rates that will soon see Victoria become one of the most vaccinated places in the world and with the state government announcing a raft of restrictions for double vaxxed Victorians, it does bring forward the need for particular conversations and questions with those around you. Whether you’re an employer, a family member, a friend or a date, here’s our guide on how to broach the sensitive question of COVID vaccination status.
You can also check out our helpful guide on getting your COVID-19 vaccine passport here.
Stay up to date with what’s happening in Melbourne here.
Whether it’s before a date, arranging a playdate between children or planning a special event, for people asking that question, there are legitimate concerns about personal safety and also the health of family members, some of who could be vulnerable to the severe effects of the virus.
While a sizeable proportion of the population still remain unvaccinated, it must be noted that not everyone who’s declined to get the jab is anti-vax. There may be some with conspiracy theories no doubt, but others will have legitimate and personal reasons for hesitancy.
How to ask someone if they’re vaccinated, and what to do with that information?
For parents, it might be something that requires discussion, especially due to kids under 12 remaining unvaccinated for now.
While children appear to be less likely to be hospitalised with COVID compared to adults, children are getting COVID – often due to transmission in the household, from an infected adult. Researchers say the best way to protect younger kids, and adults, from COVID is to ensure as many adults as possible are fully vaccinated.
Dr Ashneeta Prasad, a clinical psychology registrar from UNSW’s School of Psychology, says for many families, knowing the parents of their child’s friends are vaccinated may provide them with some sense of peace.
But the choice to ask another person about their vaccination status is ultimately up to the parent/adult.
“Over the last few months, it appears we as a country have been shifting our approach from eliminating cases to learning to live with COVID-19 as vaccination rates increase,” Dr Prasad says.
“During this transition, some families may view asking about vaccination status as a useful way to manage their residual concerns about COVID-19 circulating within the community as we learn to navigate the post-lockdown world.”
Infectious disease social scientist from UNSW’s School of Population Health, Associate Professor Holly Seale is a parent of two children under the age of 10 years. She says it’s important to have these discussions with adults before catching up with them, or parents prior to having a playdate.
“I have never previously asked a parent about whether their children are vaccinated prior to playdates,” she says.
“I do make some assumptions that those within my close network have vaccinated their children. Sometimes this is easy to work out due to the child’s attendance at childcare which requires vaccination. I have also been in situations where parents have told me their children are unvaccinated unprompted, to allow me the opportunity to navigate whether I want our children to play together.”
Firstly, consider your boundaries.
Dr Prasad says before approaching a question about vaccination status with other parents/caregivers or adults, it’s helpful to first consider what boundaries you are wanting to uphold.
She says some things to consider would be: whether you require one or both (if applicable) parents/caregivers to be vaccinated; and whether your boundaries vary depending on the setting, duration, or type of activity.
Seale agrees with this approach. “If the family has a child over the age of 12 that has not received their vaccine, will you proceed with catching up?,” she says.
“Perhaps you may be more comfortable sticking to outdoor activities.”
Approach the conversation the right way, to avoid unnecessary offence or hurt
When initiating a conversation about vaccination status, it can be useful to frame the question within the broader context of why it is being asked.
“This could begin with expressing relief that some gatherings are now possible and mentioning how you have been looking forward to socialising in person,” Dr Prasad says.
“Then you could disclose that you may still have lingering concerns about COVID-19 circulating within the community and to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy, you are trying to ensure that the people you are meeting up with in person are vaccinated.
“Providing this bigger picture before explicitly asking someone if they are vaccinated can help ease them into the conversation and promote more open and respectful communication.”
Another way could be to offer your own vaccine state first to help break the ice.
“This is a logical step as it supports setting the social norm,” Seale says.
“As part of this process, you can acknowledge that it is a strange or difficult time. It’s important to be clear and transparent about why you are asking and be open to finding alternative options or delaying the catch up until later in the year.”
Keep the question casual. Asking someone’s vaccination status is completely reasonable in these circumstances — it isn’t because you don’t trust the person, it’s bigger than that.
But what if some people decline to answer?
Remember, there are legitimate reasons some people may not be vaccinated. It’s important to remember that “no” doesn’t necessarily mean someone is anti-vax. Try not to jump to conclusions.
“It is important that we don’t assume that they are vaccine refusers but instead may have a health condition that means they are unable to get vaccinated or they are still trying to navigate their decision around the vaccine,” Seale says.
And if they say no, they’re not vaxxed?
While it can be an awkward discussion, if the answer is no, it is helpful to be honest and transparent about your views while remaining respectful.
“You could begin with describing the situation and respectfully acknowledging that there appears to be a difference in both parties are managing their approaches to COVID-19,” Dr Prasad says.
“You could then follow up by calmly reinforcing your preferences in this situation. Try your best to use ‘I’ statements that frame your decision to delay or abstain from in person meetings as a personal choice made for yourself, rather than a consequence of the other person’s vaccination status”.
If they’re open to it, you can help them weigh up the risks and benefits of the vaccines, share some facts about safety and effectiveness, or tell them what convinced you to get vaccinated.
It is possible that these conversations could elicit feelings of rejection or embarrassment, so it can be helpful to remain sensitive to their feelings.
“If possible, acknowledge and validate their feelings: for example, “I understand if this is upsetting or frustrating for you”, and avoid using blaming or accusatory language which can cause tensions to escalate further.”
In some cases, the person you’re talking to might be strongly opposed to getting the vaccine. If that’s the case, your best strategy may be to establish your position and close the conversation. Arguing with people who strongly oppose vaccination is rarely, and it could ruin your relationship.
From here, if someone has told you that they are unvaccinated, you can make an informed decision about future gatherings or appointments with them.
For all the latest COVID updates, head here.