En español | For the first time in two years, this summer feels like an actual summer.
Graduation celebrations. Dinner parties. Picnics and barbecues.
But given that the highly contagious delta variant is driving up COVID-19 cases — and is expected to steadily accelerate through the summer and fall — is it appropriate to ask the friends we want to gather with whether they've been vaccinated?
Nationally syndicated etiquette columnist Thomas P. Farley, also known as Mister Manners, calls the matter — a potentially delicate, offensive one — “a fair topic.”
Just know that these conversations can get fractious, making etiquette and diplomacy even more important.
“With the anti-vaccination and pro-vaccination camps by now settled firmly into their respective realities, the opportunities for conflict and divisiveness among friends and families are even higher than before,” says Farley. “Whereas conversations during the spring and early summer may have consisted of sharing information or swapping stories, the opposing sides are entrenched with — forgive the pun — little chance of moving the needle to sway a differing opinion.”
Farley suggests slipping in the question, seemingly as an afterthought: “You could say, ‘I'm kind of just putting my toe back in the water of getting together with people again. Can you tell me whether we will be indoors or outdoors? Will people be masked or not masked?'"
The ‘quick interaction'
What makes this question tricky is just how polarizing it can be. What's acceptable for one person may be a line in the sand for the next.
For example, many see no problem with asking or answering questions about being vaccinated; others can't imagine why they'd be requested to divulge a part of their private medical history. Some categorize the whole debate as an ethical issue.
For her part, Kathy Yager, 61, has learned to steer clear of heated exchanges around the vaccine and mask-wearing.
"I don't want to get into a conversation with anybody about what my beliefs are and what their beliefs are, especially if I don't know them very well,” says Yager, of North Ridgeville, Ohio.
Instead of asking a question, Yager issues a statement: “I just tell them I'm vaccinated and that opens the door for them to tell me whether they are or aren't."
And that tends to lead on its own, organically, to the answer she's seeking.
"If I give my information upfront and allow them to respond, it's usually a pretty quick interaction,” adds Yager.
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Soft-pedaling the delivery
"Etiquette isn't clear-cut and dried,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida. “It's situational and depends on your relationship with the person."
It's likely a safe bet that you can ask your closest friends anything. But if you're invited to an indoor dinner party by someone you don't know as intimately, and you want to broach the vaccine question, tread lightly, according to Whitmore.
"Because it's such a sensitive question, it seems so awkward — and I think even on the invasive side — to ask someone point-blank unless you know them really well,” she says.
Instead, Whitmore suggests softening the delivery by prefacing the question with a phrase, such as “Am I out of line to ask ...,” “I hope you don't mind me asking ...” or “Please forgive me if I'm asking too personal a question ..."
Depending on your relationship and level of comfort, perhaps suggest outdoor time together if the answer isn't what you're hoping for. The key is to remain gracious for the invitation and respectful.
During a recent outing, Jim Metzger let his dangling mask do the talking.
Metzger, 71, went with his wife, Deborah, to a friend's house for late-afternoon coffee and apple torte. The couple from Little Rock, Arkansas, hadn't visited the friend at his home for about two years, so they didn't know what to expect on the mask and vaccine front.
Recalls Metzger: “We showed up at the house with our masks on our hands. He opened the door without a mask on and said, ‘Oh, I'm fully vaccinated. How about you?’ We said, ‘We are, too.’ And he said, ‘Well then, we don't have to worry.’ And away we went."
Eric Gabrielsen, meanwhile, has no problem bringing up the subject, no matter whom he's conversing with, given that the pandemic has been a universal experience. In fact, he tries to inject a bit of humor into his opening.
"I always start with the fact that I'm double-vaccinated,” shares the 51-year-old, who lives in McMinnville, Oregon. “I say, ‘I'm telling you for your own good. You don't know where I've been.'"
What to Say When Asking if Someone Is Vaccinated
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 4, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information.
Robin L. Flanigan is a contributing writer who covers mental health, education, and human-interest stories for several national publications. A former reporter for several daily newspapers, her work has also appeared in People, USA Today and Education Week. She is the author of the children's book M is for Mindful.