Whether before a date, arranging a play date for kids or a catch up down the pub, knowing the vaccination status of the person you’ll be mingling with is now an important, potentially life-saving, health consideration.
But popping the question can be fraught with social discomfort.
“It’s tricky,” Dr Ashneeta Prasad, a clinical psychology registrar from UNSW’s School of Psychology, told 9News.com.au.
Some estimates suggest one in 10 Australians will not be vaccinated for the coronavirus for a variety of reasons, including health and hesitancy.
“Before the pandemic hit, asking someone their vaccination status wasn’t something that wasn’t typically done,” Dr Prasad said.
But posing that question is now suddenly relevant, she said, and it’s useful to approach the conversation the right way, to avoid unnecessary offence or hurt.
“It can be tricky for both people,” Dr Prasad said, “asking the question, and those on the receiving end of the question.”
For people asking that question, there are legitimate concerns about personal safety and also the health of family members, some who could be vulnerable to the severe effects of the virus.
“So people are wanting to be upfront and have an informed choice in whether they approach a social situation or a gathering, or if they choose to abstain.”
The flip side are unvaccinated people, whose reasons can be varied.
Dr Prasad said she has many patients with complex health needs who cannot get vaccinated.
“For them, it can be a little bit concerning to disclose details about their health, and if they feel the need to justify why you haven’t made that choice.”
People hesitant about the getting the vaccine will likely be feeling “alienated” at the moment.
“It’s really important to broach those conversations respectfully,” she said, “we all have our biases, we all have our own preconceptions about why someone may or may not have gotten vaccinated.”
The key to that, Dr Prasad said, is to be “open and upfront” heading into the conversation.
“Provide some context as to why you’re asking this question before jumping into it,” she explained.
Revealing your own vaccination status first can also be a good opener.
“It frames the conversation and maybe primes the other person for what may be coming at the end of that question,” she said.
If the other person tells you they’re not vaccinated – and this is a deal breaker for you – then the way you decline the meet up should have nuance, Dr Prasad said.
“Make sure you frame whatever decision you make based on that other person’s response as a decision that you’re making for yourself.”
That means explaining “you have your own boundaries (and) you have your own ways of looking after your health.”
Dr Prasad said it was probably best to avoid slipping into a “we could have caught up but now I’ve found out you’re not vaccinated I don’t want to risk it” type response.
“That language can be quite hurtful for the other person.”
The question of vaccination has the potential for emotions to run high, especially if someone has lost a family member or owned a business which has folded during long lockdowns.
“It’s very common to have strong emotions and reactions to the situation, especially if we’ve been personally affected by COVID … like having loved ones pass away, or not being able to see your elderly loved ones.”
Dr Prasad suggests “checking in with yourself” beforehand to recognise if you have any trigger points that could unnecessarily load the conversation with potential conflict.
Respectful and open communication will protect friendships, Dr Prasad said, even if there is disagreement over vaccinations.