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Sharp Health News

Can I ask someone if they’re vaccinated?

June 23, 2021

Two young friends wearing face mask and bumping elbows outdoors.
The sign at the entrance of a San Diego grocery store reads, “As a courtesy to our team members and other shoppers, we strongly encourage the continued use of face masks while in our store.” About 90% of the customers — along with all of the staff members — appeared to be heeding the suggestion.

But what about the other 10% of shoppers — why weren’t they complying?

Had they refrained from following masking guidelines throughout the duration of the pandemic? Did they have a health reason for foregoing face coverings? Are they fully vaccinated, and thus thrilled to feel safe enough to go mask-free? What’s more, is it OK to ask them or others about their masking practices or COVID-19 vaccine status?

According to Shelby Espiritu, LMFT, a therapist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, it’s complicated.

“As guidelines with COVID-19 continue to expand and change, we find ourselves in uncharted territory,” she says. “Our bodies and minds are working to make sense of the information that is being provided to us, which is changing almost daily, and we are all doing our best to be responsible members of society. It is imperative to be gentle with yourself and others throughout this process.”

It is with this kinder, gentler mindset of assuming everyone is doing their best, Espiritu says, that some of the agitation can be taken out of your thoughts and feelings around other people’s decisions related to precautions. “The way you think about other people’s behaviors and intentions will have a huge impact on how you feel — and thus how you behave — in your daily life,” she says.

Do you mind if I ask …
Espiritu recommends that before you start a conversation about one’s adherence to COVID-19 precautions or vaccine status, it is important to consider your relationship with the person, and what you plan to do with the information.

If you are simply asking someone with whom you don’t have a close relationship out of curiosity, the questioning may not be the most helpful for building a relationship or even just having a pleasant exchange. On the other hand, if you are asking similar questions of a good friend, that may make more sense in the context of your relationship.

When wanting to know someone’s vaccination status to determine whether or not you will continue an in-person relationship with them, it is helpful to speak from your own perspective, Espiritu says. For example, you might say, “I am worried about the health of my family and it is important to me that we minimize the risk for COVID-19 in our household as much as possible. With this goal, I’m wondering if you could tell me what precautions you are taking.”

These more general queries allow you to address the issue without having to ask pointed, personal questions or risk creating conflict. “It’s important to discuss this from a point of curiosity and personal concern, rather than making judgments on another’s decisions or falling into the role of trying to educate them,” Espiritu says.

Be assertive — and empathetic
To approach conversations about COVID-19 precautions, vaccination or other challenging topics, Espiritu recommends using assertiveness techniques. This helps you validate that your opinion matters enough to share, and can help you cope with the responses that you get.

Espiritu suggests you try these 3 techniques in your conversations:
  • Inquiry — Work to genuinely hear the other’s point of view and find out more about their feelings, thoughts and needs.
  • Empathy — Truly try to put yourself in their shoes and assume that the intent behind their decisions and actions is positive.
  • “I” statements — Speak from your own personal experience and needs, rather than telling them what to do or what they are doing to you.
If the answers to your inquiries do not align with your own beliefs, it is appropriate to share your thoughts — with kindness and without judgement. You might say, “Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am really looking forward to spending more time with you, but I would still like to wait until I feel the COVID-19 risk is decreased a bit more in our community. I hope we can find other ways to connect until then.” This communicates your desire to maintain a relationship, while honoring your personal values and needs.

“The impact that COVID-19 has had on our relationships is immense,” Espiritu says. “When focusing on maintaining relationships with people who have different beliefs from your own, the above skills will be very helpful, especially empathy and assuming positive intent. You can have empathy for someone, even when you don’t agree with the decisions that they’ve made.”

Sharp HealthCare joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in encouraging everyone who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.

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