Jeanne’s “I Got The Shot” Collection
“It may be socially inappropriate [to ask someone if they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19], but there is more of a compelling need if it’s a potential health threat like an infectious disease. You may fear that if an unvaccinated person accompanies you into a restaurant, then they can be a threat to other people and you don’t want to be a party to that.” ~ Robert I. Field, Professor of law and health management policy at Drexel University – Philadelphia Enquirer
“Your expectation is indeed reasonable…I do think you had a right to ask. You’re entitled to assess what risks you’re willing to take, and her vaccination status is relevant to that assessment.” ~ Excerpt from The New York Times Sunday Opinion: The Ethicist – Is It OK to Ask Health Care Providers if They’re Vaccinated
“HIPAA only governs certain kinds of entities – your clinician, hospital, or others in the health care sphere. It does not apply to the average person or to a business outside of health care. It doesn’t give someone personal protection against ever having to disclose their health information.” ~ Kayte Spector-Bagdady, Associate Director, Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School
The campaign to get millions of adults and children vaccinated — or vaxxed — by the Fourth of July and the fall, respectively, is in full force!
From the federal government and businesses to schools and celebrities, the incentives are flowing. States across the country have stepped up with free goodies abounding — everything from food and booze, special stadium seating and college scholarships to fishing licenses and lottery tickets — to place on the altar of vax incentives.
A major TV campaign by the National Ad Counsel is also underway. You’ve probably seen some of the spots. There’s one by four of the five former U.S. Presidents and “Back in the Game” with Willie Nelson singing, “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
Another kind of incentive comes from the CDC guidelines for those who are fully vaxxed In some cases, wearing a mask is no longer necessary, nor is testing or self-quarantining if exposed.
A plethora of establishments and institutions are jumping at the opportunities to re-open in light of the increase in vaccinations and decrease in COVID-19 cases, and are crafting policies that favor the vaxxed, including , restaurants, cruise ships, airlines, theatres, cinemas, retail businesses, colleges and churches, for some examples.
While some establishments will require vax proof, others might follow the “honor system,” which in my view is a toothless policy and benefits no one in protecting the public health. Some defend not requiring proof by misguidedly pointing to HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA covers healthcare providers and their business partners, healthcare insurance plans (including employer-sponsored plans) and now –due to COVID-19 — online health information exchanges. HIPAA does not cover businesses, HOAs and other such entities.
Among the celebrating and showy incentivizing, however, the ostentatious separation of the vaxxed from the unvaxxed, while protecting the public health, will likely create another divide like the mask-wearers versus mask-mockers. But my hope is that it will not; instead, we need to persuade by example and encouragement.
As a practical matter, we now know from the math that both masks and vaccines have significantly slowed the spread of the deadly coronavirus that has left death and destruction in its wake worldwide. Hence, we should do everything we can to close the divide and increase the number of people who become vaxxed. That’s the only way we are going to wrestle COVID-19 and its variants under control. Roughly half of the adults in the US have been fully vaccinated, which means we are not at herd-immunity status, and that is where we need to be to put this pandemic behind us. And with the even more contagious and deadly delta variant rising in the U.S., it’s even more urgent to get vaxxed ASAP.
l Got The Shot! Did You?
So, with this monumental push underway to convince Americans and others who live here to get the shot, what can we as individuals do to help? As members of the vaxxed population, we can publicize the fact by wearing wrist bands, buttons and stickers that proclaim the good news, and bring up the subject whenever possible. We should also be bold in asking those with whom we come into contact if they have been vaxxed. Conversely, those who aren’t should not hold back in disclosing their status when coming into contact with others.
To put this exchange of information in perspective, in the past there has been little hesitancy to speak freely about flu shots, the Shingrix vaccinations, etc. “Have you had your flu shot yet?” is a familiar refrain. “Have you had your COVID shot(s) yet,” is music to my ears. As a business etiquette professional and someone who strongly believes in getting vaccinated against COVID-19, I understand that (1) the vaccine protects people differently and it is possible to become infected while vaccinated and (2) COVID-19 and its variants are still floating around like the Dementors from the Potterverse.
Hence, I believe it is important to both the public health and the economy to break down barriers regarding the COVID vaccines so that productive discussions can take place. We can do that by following an “I Got The Shot! Did You?” policy, and to that end I offer some of its principles:
First and foremost, show respect and consideration for others, including and especially in matters that require increased sensitivity. So, to understand why some people remain unvaxxed, let’s take a look at some reasons and obstacles:
- Diagnosis of an allergy to an ingredient in the approved COVID-19 vaccines
- Shortage of vaccine and difficulty in getting appointments or getting to appointments in some areas
- Vaccine hesitancy due to fear that side effects will cause them to miss work and possibly a paycheck or tips
- Misunderstandings about availability or cost, or vaccine-hoax disinformation
- Recent general acceleration of distrust in American institutions and science, and historic distrust in the medical community by Black Americans
- Vaccines have not yet been approved for children under 12
- Religious exemptions
- Denial of the COVID-19 pandemic and conspiracy theories
Some of these obstacles are being mitigated. No longer is there a shortage of vaccines in the U.S. (which is poised to send some of our surplus to other countries), and appointments have opened up. Free rides to vax sites have been offered. As for the religious exemptions, some states, such as Connecticut and New York have eliminated the religious exemption, Regarding science denial and conspiracy theories, the best approach is to focus on the issue and not on the person. Good people can make bad decisions. If you, as a vaxxed person, feel that an unvaxxed individual is misguided, listen to their reasons and avoid any personal attacks on them or their influencers. Ask what their reasons are and then hear them out, politely. Then, present your side of the issue, making sure that your position is clear and backed up by facts.
If your viewpoints are rejected, accept that some minds cannot be changed. That does not mean that you must throw in the towel; you can persist, but do so with a light touch rather than a knockout punch! Of course, if you suspect that someone is endangering themselves or others as a result of their beliefs and actions, seek professional help to deal with the problem.
With all due respect to Socrates, it was my mother who lived in my conscience when it came to ethical questions. “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want splashed on the front page of the newspaper or on the 6 o’clock news!” she told me — more than once. So, simply asking myself, “What would my mom think of my decision?” would usually resolve a dilemma for me!
Another ethical guideline is, are you doing this for the greater good? With regard to COVID-19 vaccinations, asking someone with whom you will be coming into close contact for any stretch of time is not only ethical, it is sensible. And, yes, it’s legal. As noted previously, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applies to medical and health insurance entities (and during the pandemic HIPAA is allowed to exercise its enforcement discretion).
Also note that recent federal guidance makes it legal for employers to require employees to be vaccinated. Even Broadway shows might require vax proof. I know I’d feel safer going to the theatre if I knew I was sitting among other vaxxed patrons. The same guidance that applies to private companies applies to government entities, including school boards and the military. Many elementary and high schools are reluctant to mandate vaccinations for young students, and that controversy might swirl on for awhile.
With so many adults and children unvaccinated, it certainly is ethical for those who are vaxxed to ask others to reveal their status if it will directly impact you, your family or anyone else for whom you are responsible on any level. That includes asking medical professionals that will be treating you, potential restaurant dinner companions, and so on. Should you find yourself hesitant to ask, remember: COVID-19 killed more than a half million people in a matter of months in the U.S. alone, and we’re not rid of yet. So…with a clear conscience, ask already.
On the other hand, it’s helpful if vaxxed people say so. In many situations, you might be required to identify yourself as vaxxed, via your vax ID card or a regional, national or international vaccination passport. And, remember, there are those wrist bands, stickers and buttons…
When the vaccines were first announced, I was a bit hesitant myself. As someone who has sensitivities to some foods and medications, and who once had a rather dramatic reaction to a vaccine, I was nervous. But I was also nervous when the Shingrix vaccine came out as a preventative to shingles, having read about some of the reactions. Yet, I went ahead and got the two-dose vaccine and, to my relief, only experienced some soreness at the site for a few days. But while shingles can be very painful and cause lingering effects that can last for years, generally, it is not life-threatening and the death rate in the U.S. from complications is roughly 100 people per year. Compare that to COVID-19 that has caused to date in excess of 600,000 deaths in the U.S. alone in little more than a year.
So, while I did not get over my nervousness about the COVID-19 vaccination, I did get over my hesitancy! And as soon as I could, I got the shot — two, in fact! — as did my family, friends, neighbors and many acquaintances. And because of my experience, I feel empathy for others who are hesitant to get the shot because they fear side effects or have other concerns or obstacles that they must overcome.
But while I feel empathy, I also worry about the unvaxxed, and hope that for themselves and their children, they worry about contracting — or spreading — a disease that has been proved to be highly contagious and cause severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death.
In the coming weeks as we approach the Fourth of July, it is my hope that more people across America will step up and be able to say, “I got the shot!” Then we can truly make this a summer to celebrate!
Until next time,