Gracious Covid Vaccine Etiquette

Gracious COVID Vaccine Etiquette (& Other Reader Questions Answered)


covid etiquette

Etiquette has always helped people navigate social situations with confidence and grace. But what do we when there isn’t a specific etiquette protocol for something — like COVID etiquette, for example? The past few weeks we have received so many emails asking about COVID vaccine etiquette and other pandemic-related etiquette questions. So today we are giving suggestions for graciously handling these scenarios and showing how we can still love our friends and family well, even if we disagree about certain issues. 

When there aren’t clear guidelines for something like COVID vaccine etiquette, step one is going back to the heart of modern etiquette: Being considerate of others in everything we do. The Golden Rule should always be in the forefront of our minds: Are my actions and reactions treating this person as I’d want to be treated? 

But it’s important to note that having good manners doesn’t mean being a pushover. We teach this to the girls in our teen etiquette e-course, but everyone should know it! Manners help us to communicate our boundaries with kindness and without judgement. We can make decisions for our families that may look different than our friends and families — and still communicate those decisions in a respectful way.

Let’s get to the reader questions about covid vaccine etiquette and other pandemic-related etiquette questions. 

Is it okay to ask someone if they are vaccinated?

It’s inappropriate to ask someone’s vaccination status in casual conversation, but it is appropriate when it comes to the health and safety of your family. For example, if you are hiring a babysitter or nanny or a family asks your unvaccinated young child over for a playdate. Some readers have expressed that they only want to see their hairstylist if the he/she is vaccinated. 

How do I politely ask someone if they are vaccinated?

It is inconsiderate to put people on the spot, so always give someone a way to refrain from answering if they don’t feel comfortable. Remember, there are people who cannot get the vaccine for underlying health reasons and they understandably may not feel comfortable divulging those details. You may also have a friend who has strong feelings about the vaccine and asking directly might add unnecessary friction to your relationship. Other people may not want to share their vaccination status because they feel strongly that vaccination status is private. So always try to ask in an indirect way, seasoning your words with grace and humility. 

“I hope you can understand that we are only hiring babysitters who are vaccinated.” (If she doesn’t offer that she is, you can assume she’s not or base your decision on her non-answer.)

“Our pediatrician said we should only let people who have been vaccinated around our baby right now.”

“I completely understand if you don’t want to share this information, but our family is only going to homes where the adults are vaccinated.”

Because we know that vaccinated people can spread the virus, in some cases, you could also go back to the “we are limiting the number of social interactions right now” response from earlier in the pandemic. 

If you need to ask directly, ask with humility:

“I know this is a very 2021 question, but have you gotten your COVID vaccine? This is important to our family as we have small children who aren’t eligible for the vaccine.”

“You don’t have to tell me but I was wondering if you’ve gotten the vaccine? We are still being cautious.”

I didn’t get the vaccine. How do I respond when someone asks about my vaccination status? 

“No, I haven’t gotten the vaccine. Thank you for asking — I certainly respect your decision to do so.”

“I haven’t been able to get the vaccine due to an underlying health condition.”

I don’t want to share my vaccination status. How do I respond? 

“I hope you’ll understand that I’m not comfortable sharing private health information.”

I want our guests to be tested before our wedding. How do I graciously request this? 

There are several ways to handle this. We will have a post with more details but one way is to reach out to guests prior to the wedding RSVP date with a card or email with the following message:

In the interest of keeping everyone healthy and safe during the wedding festivities, we ask that you submit proof of a negative COVID test 48 hours before the event. Thank you for understanding.

You are actually giving your guests two options: They can submit a test or they can decline the wedding invitation. The wedding planner or a designated family member should be responsible for managing this information — not the bride or groom. If someone has questions or concerns, they can direct those toward the messenger and not the happy couple!

With rising cases, I no longer feel comfortable attending a wedding next month. I’ve already RSVP’d — what do I do? 

If it’s a close friend or family member, a phone call is in order. Otherwise a note or email is fine.

“I am so sad that we will no longer be able to attend the wedding. I hope you can understand that we are concerned about the current surge and for the safety of our family have decided to social distance (or limit gathering to people who are vaccinated) for the time being.” 

I am not comfortable shaking hands yet. How do I respond? 

Try to diffuse the awkwardness with humor. If someone extends their hand or goes in for a hug, a little laugh, wave, and “So sorry, I’m not really doing hugs right now. Still social distancing!” would work just fine. As long as you let the other person know there’s a reason you’re not reciprocating, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to avoid these typically normal interactions.

How do I ask about someone’s comfort level about masking/socializing without being awkward? 

To be considerate of others, first figure out someone’s comfort level and then adjust your behavior accordingly. You can usually figure out someone’s comfort level by erring on the side of caution. “I know this great new place that has a beautiful patio if you want to sit outside.” The person may say that’s great or that they don’t mind sitting inside either. 

When it comes to masks and social gatherings  you can say, “Are you comfortable if I don’t wear a mask?” Or “I’m happy to wear a mask.”

How do I ask someone to wear a mask? 

You can say, “Would you mind wearing a mask while you’re inside my house? I would really appreciate that.” If you’re meeting with a friend or acquaintance, you could send them a text message beforehand that says, “I’m still masking out of caution. Would you mind bringing one?” Again, it’s better not to put people on the spot. Give them a heads up and if they don’t want to, they will let you know or reschedule. 

I was invited to a party. Is it okay to ask if people will be vaccinated or masked? 

It’s appropriate to ask if the party will be held outside, if masks will be required, and even how many people will be attending. You can ask if adults will be vaccinated but realize that the host(s) may not know this information. Most hosts want to ensure that their guests feel comfortable at their event, pandemic or not. But it’s also not expected that the host will ask her guests to conform to your preferences. If you don’t feel comfortable with the situation, politely decline. 

What should I do/say if someone I’ve been in contact with tells me they have COVID?

First, it’s important to keep in mind that this person might feel guilt about unknowingly exposing people to the virus. Plus, they’re also sick and not feeling well. So have grace and understanding.

It’s natural to worry about catching it yourself, as well as the health of your family. But in the moment, try not to put added stress or worry on the person who is ill. Do what you would do in any other scenario when a friend or family member tells you they’re sick: Ask if there is anything you can do, any groceries you can drop off, or any prescriptions you can pick up for them. Then take the proper precautions of monitoring yourself and your immediate family. 

My friend/family member has a very strong (and different opinion) than me when it comes to vaccines. How do I graciously handle our interactions? 

This is where I think etiquette really comes in, where we have the opportunity to approach every interaction and scenario with grace and understanding. Even if we have a different stance on the COVID vaccine, it’s so important to remember that there’s a person that we know and love on the other side of that stance. 

If you find yourself in the middle of an argument or debate, just excuse yourself. Tell the other person you love and respect them, regardless of whether you both agree on this one issue. We’re all doing the best we can and trying to do what’s right for our families! We may not agree but it is gracious to try to understand where the other person is coming from and show humility and respect, instead of judgement and incivility.

On that note, if we are to remain a civil society, we must continue to have good manners, treating others with respect and kindness. In a time filled with rudeness and mockery (especially on the internet!), I hope DoSayGive readers will lead by example in how they interact with others during these fractious times.

What other COVID etiquette questions do you have? Comment below!

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11 thoughts on “Gracious COVID Vaccine Etiquette (& Other Reader Questions Answered)

  1. Dear Lee,
    I appreciate your approaching this Covid situation, and I do agree we need civility. Most of these sticky issues could be avoided if people realized that being “vaccinated” does not prevent you from getting or spreading Covid. Therefore, excluding people who have not gotten the shots is very hurtful and actually ignorant.
    The hosts of our family reunion sent a group email announcement with dates and details, and asked the “unvaccinated” to please stay home. I cried for weeks.

    1. Oh I am so sorry about that. I know that must have hurt deeply. Perhaps asking for negative covid tests of everyone would have been a better solution. To your point, I think people still feel like the vaccine is one of the layers of protection that they can do to protect their families. It is not perfect but, until we have more data on the percentage of vaccinated people spreading the virus, I think it is a layer people will consider as they manage risks for their families. Particularly when it comes to hiring babysitters, etc. Thank you for sharing your story – I hope this post helps people handle these tough situations with grace and understanding.

  2. Actually to clarify my earlier comment, an “invitation” that tells you not to come if unvaccinated is not an invitation- it is a notice that there is an event from which you are being excluded.

  3. Hi Lee,

    Thank you for this well-thought out, timely post. We have many friends who have approached vaccines and masks differently than our family. It has been quite challenging, but we are thankful no friendships have been hindered. I know I will be using many of your suggested phrases to handle future situations with kindness and love!

  4. So helpful and timely. This very dialogue in its untethered form has wreaked havoc on my extended family. The shaming has been audacious and condescending. I have tried to maintain civility and graciously but excusing myself from group chats has provided a needed reprieve from the heated dialogue.

  5. Just wanted to say thank you – I never previously realized that vaccination status would be controversial to request, and this post helped me phrase it in a positive gracious way for our babysitter for our first event in almost 2 years. Appreciate your thoughtful approach.

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