As someone of Medicare age who also has treated (but nonetheless existing) health issues, I’m in the camp of those wearing masks everywhere I need to go, moving to N95 if the location is indoors. I don’t begrudge the unvaccinated their right not to get the shots, but I have an equal right to avoid the unvaccinated for their sake and for mine. Apparently I’m not alone.
Vaccination Status Has Americans Picking Sides
Vaccination status is splitting up groups of close friends and families; ‘it could just turn into a really nasty battle’
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY WSJ; PHOTO: ISTOCKSHARE
By Ray A. SmithAug. 9, 2021 8:00 am ET
Weeks of rising Covid-19 cases have hardened divisions within families, communities and friend groups over which members have been vaccinated and which have chosen not to do so.
Hannah Lindeborg wanted to pull out all the stops for her daughter’s second birthday in July, especially after the pandemic derailed the family celebration for her first last year.
The second birthday would be the first big gathering with extended family since Covid-19 came into their lives, Ms. Lindeborg said, adding that she looked forward to hosting everybody over at her home in St. Paul, Minn.
When she learned some of her family members had chosen not to get vaccinated, “it was just kind of downhill from there,” she said.
From family gatherings to weddings to workplaces, vaccinated Americans are drawing new, sharper lines around who they choose to spend time with amid the rise of the highly-transmissible Delta variant. And the unvaccinated are growing testy over being excluded and feeling judged for exercising their right to make their own health choices. The divisions are straining relationships among families, neighbors and colleagues.
Ms. Lindeborg, 30 years old, is an attorney and mother of four, including a 5-year-old son with asthma. She and her husband tried to figure out how to host everyone while telling the unvaxxed ones to remain outside. They considered uninviting the unvaccinated. Ultimately, they canceled the party.
“We felt it would cause a lot of hard feelings if we told the unvaccinated family members you’re not welcome at all,” she said, adding that the situation left her frustrated and sad.
Jeni Mitchell recently rescinded invitations from a couple of friends to her small wedding later this month.
The friends “reached out and said, ‘in full disclosure, we’ve not been vaccinated, we’re not going to be vaccinated and we don’t wear masks,’” said Ms. Mitchell, 47, who lives in La Crosse, Wis. After conferring with her fiancé, she said they agreed that they weren’t willing to risk exposure and didn’t want drama.
“I am facing a knee replacement this fall, so I cannot risk getting sick and have to postpone any of that stuff,” she said. “Three of the people coming are nurses, so it could just turn into a really nasty battle of why did you not get vaccinated?”
Ms. Mitchell said the friends reacted with dismay and told her it wasn’t the first time a vaccinated friend had cut them off or out of some activity.
Day-to-day interactions are growing increasingly fraught as individuals grapple with how much to ask others about their vaccination status—and what to do if they hear an answer that makes them uncomfortable.
Joseph C. Schiavo, a 62-year-old university professor of music who lives in Pennsauken, N.J., said he doesn’t feel comfortable going back to his barber after she told him she wasn’t vaccinated; she did wear a mask while cutting his hair.
“I started feeling a little uneasy and saying I don’t think I want to come back here,” he said. “I didn’t say that to her, but that’s what I was feeling. I have another appointment next week and I’m still wondering, should I go?”
Some employers are starting to mandate vaccination before people return to workplaces, but many more workers face office return dates with no such rules. Dating apps and websites have launched online stickers and badges for members to display their vaccination status—or steer clear of profiles lacking the badges. Vaccinated users typically get perks that help boost their visibility to potential matches.
Americans who have opted not to get the shots cite a range of reasons for holding off, from political beliefs to unease with such new treatments. Some unvaccinated people who were interviewed for this story say they have legitimate medical questions. They declined to be identified by name because they feared blowback in their personal and professional lives. Overall they say they want more information on the vaccines’ potential long-term side effects, and harbor concerns about their impact on pregnant women and fertility.
“I’m not a bad person,” one woman said.
Pete Parada, the drummer for The Offspring, said he was kicked out of the rock band because he was unwilling to get the vaccine. In an Aug. 4 Instagram post, he wrote that he supports “informed consent—which necessitates choice unburdened by coercion,” and cited his medical history for turning down the request.
“I also want to share my story so that anyone else experiencing the agony and isolation of getting left behind right now knows they’re not entirely alone,” he posted. A spokeswoman said the band declined to comment.
For the vaccinated, blowback for openly declaring that unvaccinated people are unwelcome can be swift and harsh. When “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston said in a magazine interview that she was cutting unvaccinated people out of her life, her comments unleashed a torrent on social media. She defended her views shortly after, posting on her Instagram that “we have to care about more than ourselves.”
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,517 U.S. adults aged 18 and over published last week, unvaccinated adults expressed much less worry about the coronavirus, including the Delta variant, than the vaccinated did, despite being more at risk of catching it. They also reported lower confidence in the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, though a segment of unvaccinated individuals said they view the Covid-19 vaccine as rushed but could be open to getting the shots once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants full approval, rather than its current emergency authorization status.
Mary Angela Perna has taken to directly asking service professionals, like a counter installer she is dealing with, whether they are vaccinated before proceeding.
“I was getting new counters and a new sink in my kitchen and I had to ask if he’s vaccinated because the guy didn’t wear a mask last time and I didn’t think about it when he came and measured and everything,” said Ms. Perna, 52, who hosts a politics podcast and lives in Sussex County, N.J. (He was.) She did the same for a worker who recently installed new blinds.
Ms. Perna, whose father died from Covid-19 in December and who canceled a coming vacation in Florida with her husband and young daughter due to rising cases there, now plans to call her dentist’s office in advance and ask whether staff is vaccinated. On her previous visit, she said a nurse was vague about his status when she volunteered her own.
“I feel really weird, but I’d rather feel safe than feel weird,” she said. “If I don’t get the answer that I need, then I will have to find someone else.”