ADVICE: What do I do about unvaxxed family?

If your unvaccinated mother-in-law is invited to your party, you have to decide if you’re comfortable with the risks.

Maja Begovic 4 minute read August 13, 2021
unvaccinated family member

Get-togethers with people who are not vaccinated are a risk for everyone. GETTY

Dear Asking For a Friend,

My mother-in-law refuses to get vaccinated. It hasn’t mattered much since we haven’t seen her, but we are having a big family celebration in a few weeks for my elderly father, and I’m worried about putting him at risk. Not inviting her doesn’t feel like a good option.

Signed, Vaxxed

Dear Vaxxed,

As COVID-19 continues to rage, vaccinations are becoming critical to stemming the tide of illness. The fact that not everyone recognizes the value and importance of getting the vaccine is contributing to a growing divide between those who have gotten the jab, and those who choose not to.

A recent report reveals that roughly 71 per cent of Canadians have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. The remaining population is either too young to be vaccinated, while others are eligible but still holding out. The reasons for refusing the vaccine are varied, from hardcore anti-vaxxers, to those who worry about rare side effects, and those who have concerns about the science.

A survey by the Association for Canadian Studies (ASC) suggests that there is hesitation among those who have received their shots to be in the company of those who have not. Vaccinated Canadians also believe that they should be able to enjoy more freedoms, including quarantine exemptions because of their vaccination status. The latest numbers show that the risk of transmission, hospitalization and even death is higher among those who are unvaccinated.

According to Dr. Vinita Dubey, Associate Medical Officer of Health at Toronto Public Health, unvaccinated people in the pre-symptomatic or symptomatic stages of COVID-19 present a risk to others. They also experience a much greater risk of infection and severe outcomes. Getting a double dose of the vaccine can help lessen severe illness, and protect those who are unable to be vaccinated, including those who are immunocompromised and kids under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, suggests Dubey.

If your unvaccinated mother-in-law is invited to participate in a family celebration, you have to decide if you’re comfortable with the risks, and if so, there might be a way to handle that without the added stress or drama.

When interacting with those who are unvaccinated, Dubey recommends public health measures that can help prevent COVID-19. This includes staying home when sick, practicing physical distancing and wearing a mask when physical distancing is not possible. It is also recommended to hold gatherings outside, rather than indoors, and limiting the number of people attending.

Dubey warns that COVID-19 can be spread through aerosols, which are tiny droplets that can stay in the air, especially when there is poor airflow or ventilation and a higher number of people crammed indoors for an extended period of time. She also suggests that in an indoor environment, transmission as a result of the Delta variant may occur quickly between an infected person and many others, especially among the unvaccinated.

The bottom line is that in these times, any gathering means that you need to consider your health and that of your family. When you’re dealing with someone who refuses to be vaccinated there are some things you should do and things you shouldn’t. You are fully within your right to ask that your mother-in-law wear a mask and social distance. It will be awkward, but we’re talking about your health and the health of your guests.

This isn’t the time to debate the importance of getting the vaccine, or to judge why she has made the choice not to. “There’s no reason to become the Lord of Vaccination,” says the Cleveland Clinic’s Chivonna Childs, who recommends making the discussion all about you. Explain your concerns — exposing at-risk guests and the new, more contagious variants — without questioning their choices.

It’s also important to remember that your elderly father is not the only one at risk — so is your mother-in-law. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that people who are unvaccinated wear a mask in indoor public places, stay six feet away from others, and avoids crowds — for their protection.

Hopefully, your mother-in-law sees things your way and accommodates your COVID safety requests and everyone can enjoy a lovely event. If she doesn’t, then things become a little more complicated. But there is a bottom line: your decision could actually mean life or death for anyone at your event. Confrontation and judgement aside, that’s what’s most important.

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