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7 tips for how to ask about someone’s vaccine status

Vaccination etiquette: Is it worth picking a fight with your anti-vax co-worker?

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The COVID-19 vaccine has recently become a more frequent topic of conversation than the weather. And the old Nova Scotia adage—“wait five minutes and it’ll change”— seems just as true for the advice and social etiquette around vaccines.

“The UK is planning on maybe no more guidelines, no more masks, no more distancing as early as July 19. After that, is it going to matter? Are people going to want to know each other’s vaccination status? Maybe not. It's evolving as quickly as vaccination,” says Julie Blais Comeau, chief etiquette officer at etiquettejulie.com.

The Ottawa-based expert says etiquette is mostly knowing “what to do, when, and how.” And while it may summon mental images of books balanced on heads and knowing which fork is which at a fancy tea, Blais Comeau says it has modern applications, especially during the pandemic. “Etiquette is about customs, it’s about norms that the group feels is acceptable,” she tells The Coast in a phone call.

On social media, plenty of vaccine selfies have come from people who are happy to share their vaccination status. But not everyone is as eager. “For other people, they’re more reserved,” says Blais Comeau. “They want to wait and see. They feel that there may be risks involved.”

This social minefield can be a lot to deal with, so here’s seven tips to help navigate any vaccination interaction.

1 Consider who this person is to you
If you want to know whether someone’s gotten a shot (or two) yet, it’s worth considering what type of relationship you have with the person. Are they colleague, friend or family? “Could they interpret this question as friend or foe?” Blais Comeau asks. “Could there be negative consequences to me asking that question, to the status of my current relationship?”

2 Figure out why you want to know
If you’re just asking out of curiosity, Blais Comeau says it’s typically not worth it. But some situations warrant vaccine questions—if you’re meeting up with someone in person, spending a lot of time in a room with someone or if your child’s going on a play date. “You're going to ask yourself, Am I asking out of curiosity, or am I being cautious?” Blais Comeau explains. “And if it’s out of curiosity, is it worth it?”

3 Get it out there early
For some people, going to meet up in public for a drink will warrant caution, while others may screen people attending a party at their house. “You should certainly do it ahead of time if you are invited or if you are inviting. Some people it won't matter to them, some people it will,” says Blais Comeau. “And if you are inviting and you want to make sure everybody in attendance is vaccinated, you can choose to do that. Your house, your rules.”

4 Take the lead
If you encounter a situation where someone isn’t being up front, Blais Comeau recommends telling someone your own vaccination status first and seeing how they react. “When you volunteer your status, then you observe,” she says. “Observe body language, observe the eyes. Are they smiling? How are they reacting? Are they pushing away?” If they still don’t seem eager to talk, Blais Comeau says you can push further by talking about things like the current guidelines and reopening, whether you want to travel when permitted, or about reaching population immunity.

5 Hear them out
If someone says they’re waiting to get vaccinated, don’t jump to conclusions. “Approach it from a perspective of empathetic curiosity, empathetic understanding. Tell me more. Why are you choosing to wait?’ And just hear what the person has to say,” Blais Comeau says. “Maybe every year, they used to get the flu shot and they were sick three years in a row. So they're afraid that they will probably be quite ill from it.”

6 Agree to disagree
When it comes down to it, there may be some people who just don’t want to get vaccinated, or don’t want to talk about it. “The most important thing here is to announce that you're ready to agree to disagree because you value the relationship.” says Blais Comeau. “And everybody has a right to their opinion.”

7 Don’t preach
While agreeing to disagree may not be easy, Blais Comeau says there are other consequences for those who choose not to get a shot, like continued restrictions on travel. “It is difficult, but people still have a right to refuse this,” she says. ”Unless they want to travel. Some countries are going to say you have to have it and you can't go, and that's the consequence for that person. But it's not up to us to shame, to preach.”

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