How one can Have the Exhausting Vaccination Conversations
In April, Ashley Z. Ritter’s vaccination conflict came to a head. She had hired a part-time babysitter for her three children when the family moved to a new home in Yardley, Pennsylvania last August. Babysitter Lauren Greenewald helped manage the virtual school for the two older kids, 6 and 7, while she also juggled the 2-year-old and worked toward a Masters degree in school counseling.
Dr. Ritter, a nurse and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, strongly preferred that her supervisor be vaccinated against Covid-19 and asked Ms. Greenewald about her plans to have it as soon as the vaccine was available. Your babysitter hesitated.
“My main concerns were that it was under emergency clearance,” said Ms. Greenewald, and that the vaccines available were not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. “As a young, healthy person, I don’t really belong to a high-risk category. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to get it without seeing long-term studies. “
Dr. Ritter had provided advice on conflicts like this in her role as chief clinical officer for the Dear Pandemic blog. But she discovered that facing such a conflict on your own is an entirely different matter.
“She was a blessing to us during a really difficult time and took very good care of our children,” said Dr. Knight. “It was hard to take.”
These are confusing times as wider access to vaccination is met with significant vaccination reluctance (20 percent of American adults say they definitely will not get the vaccination or will only get it if it is “necessary for work or other activities”). How do you know if the colleague sharing your office space has been vaccinated? The same could be asked about college students, professors, pastors and church members, camp counselors, and the web of other relationships that we personally resume.
When is someone’s vaccination status your business – and what do you do if you don’t like the answer? How to navigate a bioethicist, epidemiologist, lawyer, and etiquette expert through the new standards of vaccination disclosure.
Who can you ask
Whether or not someone has been vaccinated may feel like private medical information, but it can also have a direct impact on your and your family’s health. Most experts generally agree, “It’s okay to ask someone if they’ve been vaccinated, whether or not it affects your decisions about what to do with them or not,” said Joseph G. Allen, Associate Professor of Exposure Assessment Science at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard.
Vaccination status is a key factor in deciding whether to meet someone inside or outside, masked or unmasked, or even reassessing the relationship. These decisions often depend on personal risk tolerance – you might just want to have your hair cut by a vaccinated stylist, or you might not mind if your child’s soccer coach isn’t vaccinated when they are training outside.
But remember, nobody owes you an answer, said Nancy S. Jecker, professor of bioethics and the humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “You can always ask,” she said, but the other person may have reasons to keep their decision a secret. “It could have to do with something like a person’s pregnancy status or an underlying chronic condition, or a person’s immigrant status.”
This right extends to more structured institutions such as schools. Parents can ask their child’s teacher directly about vaccinations, but most state medical privacy laws prevent schools from sharing this information, said Dorit Reiss, a vaccination policy expert and professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. (Schools may share general data on staff vaccination rates depending on state and local policies.)
Parents cannot legally ensure that their children are only placed with vaccinated adults – but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Day care could be helpful to keep you as a customer, but it doesn’t have to be, said Dr. Tear.
It gets a little easier with camps or sports programs as concerned parents can look to an organization willing to share vaccination quotas. Cory Harrison, director of YMCA Camp Greenville, South Carolina, said he informed parents this spring that 100 percent of the staff had been vaccinated. He said the camp encouraged this by only allowing fully vaccinated employees to leave campus during their free time.
How do you bring it up
Lead with the fact that you are or will soon be fully vaccinated, advised Ruth R. Faden, founder of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University and part of the Covid-19 Vaccine Ethics Research Team.
June 22, 2021, 12:27 p.m. ET
“Sharing is a way of inviting sharing,” she said. In a less personal relationship (e.g., with a stylist or physical therapist) saying, “Good news, I’m now fully vaccinated!” Could give you a simple “Me too!” If not, Dr. Faden suggests arranging your follow-up like this: “If you think it appropriate, can you tell me if you are fully vaccinated? If you don’t want to share this information with me, I understand. “
Closer working relationships, such as with a long-time babysitter or cleaning lady, are more difficult. Katie Provinziano, executive director of West Side Nannies, which has offices in several major cities, has recently been coaching two or three affected customers through this interview every week.
She suggested that you decide on your bottom line before bringing up the topic: will the job you offer require vaccination in the future or are you ready to bow down? Make an appointment to discuss specific vaccinations, then share why they are important to you and understand what is expected.
“You can create a schedule: ‘Would you feel comfortable getting it in the next three months?'” She advised. But if nannies still don’t want to be vaccinated, Ms. Provinziano says that most of the families she has spoken to will let them go in the end. She added that 98 percent of jobs at her company are only open to people who are already vaccinated or who plan to be vaccinated.
“Nannies who choose not to be vaccinated will have a much harder time finding work,” she said.
Vaccination is in your rights as a household employer, said Bob King, an employment law attorney with Legally Nanny law firm in Los Angeles. “Employees at larger companies can choose not to have a vaccine if they have a valid medical reason or a sincere religious belief,” he said. But these are federal laws that apply to larger employers, not households.
Even more confusing: several states (like Montana) have passed or proposed laws prohibiting employers from prescribing the vaccine, but it’s legally unclear whether they would cover a nanny or other worker in your home, said Dr. Tear. If in doubt, check your state’s latest legislation.
Keep an eye on the power dynamic, added Dr. Thread added. “Someone may desperately need the job you gave them,” she said. When it comes to compulsory vaccination, “you are entitled to take this position, but you should be sensitive in this case and give people time.”
Can I try to convince the hesitant?
Yes, if you forget to argue and instead try to understand. “Most likely you won’t convince them, but you can join the conversation,” said Akilah Siti Easter, an etiquette expert and biologist in Chicago. “You are not judging the person for choosing not to be vaccinated,” try to understand why they chose not to be vaccinated.
If someone’s reasons were due to misinformation (say, she mistakenly believes the vaccine was linked to infertility), Ms. Easter said it was worth trying a measured conversation. Start by creating common ground.
“You can say, ‘I was also very concerned, but I spoke to my doctor and asked these questions. Here’s what she told me, ‘”she said.
But what if you still can’t agree?
Then it is time to decide whether the risk of coronavirus transmission can be sufficiently mitigated to your liking – perhaps your child’s best friend with unvaccinated parents can play with masks with your child outdoors – or whether you are more comfortable Cutting ties. That’s not new; Throughout the pandemic, “we had to respect each other’s risk budgets,” said Dr. Thread. Vaccination status is just the newest variable.
Dr. Because of her work as a consultant, Ritter felt that she was well prepared for this scenario. “I tried to practice what we preached: have an open and honest conversation, debunking myths,” said Dr. Knight. She gave her babysitter scientific information about the vaccine and gave them a few days to think about it.
However, when Ms. Greenewald returned to work the next Monday, she told her boss she wasn’t ready for the shot. They decided to split up. “It was very respectful,” said Ms. Greenewald.
Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan is a freelance writer and editor based in Missoula, Mont.