COVID-19 Etiquette: Vaccines

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in not only preventing the spread of the virus but also reducing hospitalizations and deaths. While the vaccines have been widely available for months, many people remain unvaccinated and misperceptions about the vaccines persist.

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Talking to people about the vaccines — and their status — can be a challenge. We asked a trio of experts for advice as part of our COVID-19 etiquette series


More than 60% of Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data — but that means millions of state residents are still unvaccinated. How do you ask someone about their status?

Dr. Susan Bleasdale, medical director of infection prevention and control at University of Illinois Health: The best way is to talk in a way that you’re asking that question to ensure your safety and their safety. It might be, “Hey, this pandemic has been such a challenge. I’m thankful we have a vaccine. I’m vaccinated. … If we’re going to get together, I’d like to make sure we have some increased safety. Have you had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet?”

The key is making sure people are still respectful of others’ decisions, opinions and needs. Some people may not be vaccinated because they’re allergic to a component in the vaccine, or they have strongly held beliefs about it. But hopefully, they’ve had the opportunity to get their questions answered, and hopefully will make the decision to get vaccinated.

Shelly Rauvola, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at DePaul University: Share that you yourself are vaccinated. Speaking a lot about your own needs and goals for getting vaccinated — this approach is more like you’re gathering information. It makes it less like a personal attack and much more as something about both people’s health and well-being.

Dr. Crystal Clark, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine: Start by seeing how a person feels about vaccines in general. It’s an indirect way to better understand the person’s likelihood of being vaccinated or not. And depending on their answer, they may say they think vaccines are important and that everyone should get one. Based on their own sentiment, you can follow up and ask, “Have you gotten yours?” Or, “What was your vaccination experience like?”

If they say they don’t believe in vaccines — we don’t want to make assumptions — but it gives the indication that might be a touchy question. If you’re going to be asking if someone is vaccinated, really think about why you’re asking this. And if it’s for your own safety or the safety of your family, ask directly: “Do you mind me asking if you got the vaccine?”


As the number of coronavirus infections rise, mainly among those who are unvaccinated, how do you talk to someone about getting vaccinated? 

Bleasdale: The key is encouraging them to be vaccinated, and if they’re choosing not to, to try and understand what their hesitation is, and sometimes, understanding their hesitation is an opportunity for education and information.

Around those close to me, there’s some hesitation around people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. And that’s a good opportunity for me to educate them that as someone who is planning to be pregnant or is pregnant, they’re at high risk for COVID infection.

Sometimes, it’s a belief that the vaccine hasn’t been tested. Really, it has. We have given over 150 million doses in the U.S. alone, and we’re somewhere around 3 billion doses globally. Steps were not skipped to get to this point. We had a large number of people who volunteered to be part of clinical trials, with 40,000-50,000 in clinical trials for each vaccine to be able to get that emergency use authorization that was approved initially.

Ravoula: I’m a scientist. I’m definitely someone who tends to lean on evidence. Of course, a lot of what we’re seeing these days is a huge divide in terms of how legitimate people see science.

Dial the conversation back down to the individual level and say, “This is why I made the decision to be vaccinated. If we’re going to spend time together, I really need you to be vaccinated in order to feel comfortable spending time together.”

It’s about communicating empathy and compassion and listening while also presenting the facts in a way that’s not perceived as threatening. It has a lot do with framing.

Clark: Ask directly but be open to their response. Try to let go of judgment if their response is the opposite of what you have done or believe. Listen to what their reasons are. 


After a year mostly devoid of family gatherings and large events, social activities are returning. How do you tell a family member who is not vaccinated that they can’t attend a family function? 

Bleasdale: It’s about communicating that it’s about protecting those that are there and those who are not vaccinated. If you’re unvaccinated and you’re gathering, you’re putting yourself at risk. Those that are unvaccinated are at a significant risk of hospitalization or death from COVID infection. Tell them this is about making sure they’re protected.

For me, I’m vaccinated and my immediate family is vaccinated. If we’re going to be around others who are not vaccinated, we need to know that they are taking precautions to protect themselves from the virus and even those who are vaccinated should be too. Though the chance is much smaller for a vaccinated person to get COVID, they still might, especially now with the delta variant.

Rauvola: Be really straightforward about it. Speak without ambiguity and be really direct – not in an accusatory way. These situations can be rife with emotions: so much upset and anger, people feel called out on both sides of the vaccination debate.

But see this less as a debate and more of, “This is my personal standard. This is my boundary that I’m setting. This doesn’t mean I don’t love you or I don’t value you, but this is a boundary and I’m going to enforce that.” The more direct you can be about it, the better. That will create less miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Clark: Some of my patients are being very direct, saying, “If you’re not vaccinated, you can’t come over.” There’s no way around it if you’re really concerned about your safety and not being exposed to the virus.

It’s really just being thoughtful about wording, try not to be judgmental and state that your family has decided that due to the pandemic and concerns about exposure, they’re requiring everyone to be vaccinated.


COVID-19 misinformation, myths and conspiracy theories abound online and on social media. What are the best ways to debunk COVID-19 misinformation our peers and family members might be reading online?  

Bleasdale: Say, “That’s not the information I’ve seen. Where did you hear that? I think it would be helpful to see where that’s coming from. Sometimes new information comes out and maybe I’m not up to date.” Then verify that information and really encourage them to use a reliable source.

The best thing is to reach out to reputable information and contacts. The CDC has a great website with information for people with frequently asked questions related to the vaccine and COVID infections. Reach out to your providers. As physicians, we have this information and we try to make it available to our patients and colleagues as well.

Rauvola: You have to approach those conversations from a place of trying to find some sort of common ground, whether it’s: “We all want this pandemic to end” or “We all want what’s best for each other.” And then providing resources to the individual who is spewing misinformation. Provide them with something that you can attest to its reputation but allowing this individual the space to explore that and maybe invite them to talk about it afterward.

Clark: I would recommend going back to our reliable sources, such as the CDC and providing that resource, but make sure you read or know anything you share that counters or debunks a myth or conspiracy. Read up on it and then share a link or article with that loved one and say, “I’m worried that your source or that information isn’t correct.”

Interviews have been condensed and edited.

Do you have COVID-19 etiquette questions? Send us an email.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]


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