• Resolving Problems

My Friend Won’t Get Vaccinated: Can I Save The Friendship?

Published: August 22, 2021 | Last Updated: August 25, 2021 By | 10 Replies Continue Reading
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Whether it’s a friend or a relative, most of us know someone who won’t get vaccinated. And having different attitudes towards vaccinations or masking during COVID-19 is posing unexpected challenges to many friendships.

A woman recently wrote:

I regularly play cards with a group of women. We’ve all been vaccinated but one woman is a holdout who won’t get vaccinated. I wear a mask; she doesn’t. I don’t feel comfortable sitting at the same table as her in the cardroom at our club. What can I do? No one else has mentioned it to her.

Vaccination status as a divider

This woman’s awkward situation is actually quite common. Two celebrities recently reported their own dilemmas and decisions related to vaccinations:  

Jennifer Aniston announced that she had decided to cut ties with people who either refused vaccines or were unwilling to disclose their vaccination status.

Pete Parada, a drummer for the band “Offspring” was ousted from the band after he refused to get vaccinated. In this case, he said he did so because of his medical history. 

New Axios-Harris Poll looks at “personal vaccine mandates”

Millenials and Gen Zers are the most likely generations to cut off relationships with people who disagree with them over vaccine policies.

The pollsters hypothesize that Millenials may feel most strongly because they are the ones most likely to have unvaccinated kids. Some 41% of Millennials said they would require proof before hosting an event compared to 36% in older generations.

“It’s the new cultural dividing line,” commented John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll. “It’s kind of like the Delta variant is moving in real-time and people are like ‘Should I be doing the wedding this fall?’”

Data from the Axios-Harris survey:


What to do what a friend won’t get vaccinated

I reflected on this question and posed it to members of The Friendship Blog Connection Facebook page.

Based on my own thoughts and comments crowdsourced from the group, here are some tips for handling what is admittedly a difficult situation:

  • Open a dialogue. Try to find out why your friend has decided not to get vaccinated. Offer facts and suggest resources but avoid being dismissive and judgmental. When you hear their reasoning, it may or may not make more sense to you than before.
  • Explain why you feel vulnerable when among unvaccinated people. For example, you might explain why you feel at risk because of age, underlying medical conditions, or situational factors. Make it personal.
  • If the dilemma arises in a group, like that in the card game described above, raise your concerns to the group as a whole rather than going behind someone’s back. You may discover that you aren’t the only one who feels the way you do. This is a situation where peer pressure may have some impact on the holdout.
  • Recognize that in the end, whether their rationale seems valid or not, you have no control over someone else’s decisions, only your own. You have to set boundaries for yourself and do what feels right for you—even though it might mean losing a friend or group of friends.
  • Act politely and civilly. Leave the door open for the future. Although you disagree now, circumstances may change and allow you to resurrect the relationship.

Many sides to the coin

On Facebook, like in the real world, people offered a diversity of opinions. A few samples (edited lightly for clarity/brevity):

Friendship trumps vaccine status

Any person who would disassociate from another due to their personal medical choices is not a friend. Likewise, any person who would coerce another into doing something with their body that they do not want to do is not being a true friend.

Had my first injection in February and couldn’t wait to get the second one in May. But I have unvaccinated friends and won’t be shunning them.

It’s about my health and the health of others

Choosing not to vaccinate is a choice but choices have consequences. I also have a choice to protect myself and those around me. So I can choose to keep my distance from that person until such time as they do, or until there is no more risk to myself or others. It’s the same with not being permitted into public places without vaccination. It’s about public safety. 

I support those who want to cut ties with unvaccinated friends. It is their decision, just as it is the unvaccinateds’ decision to not get the vaccine.

It’s complicated

My daughter is deathly allergic to something in the vaccine. Some of us simply cannot take the vaccine.

Our family gatherings will be awkward. My sister-in-law refuses to vaccinate her two teen kids 

I have been fully vaccinated since May. I hesitated to get the vaccine because I feared I would be regarded as a sellout because of past mistreatment of my community by the government and the medical establishment. In the end, I decided that I was sick of living in isolation so I got the vaccine. I haven’t cut anyone off but I do keep a distance from all unvaccinated people.

There are plenty of vaccinated people spreading the virus because they never wear masks! They think it’s perfectly acceptable to parade around maskless because they have been vaccinated and that is not true. Yeah, they may not die but they are spreading COVID and think they are safe. I still wear the mask indoors unless I am eating in a restaurant. We must use our common sense to keep ourselves and others safe.

A dilemma with no easy answers

Unfortunately, public health measures like vaccinations and masking can be quite polarizing. However, this isn’t a brand-new phenomenon. Other issues, like religion and politics, have long been divisive among friends and family. 

One salient difference: This time the consequences of another individual’s decisions can have an impact on the health and safety of others. 

“The difference could be life and death or long-term disability,” commented one member.

Have you encountered a difference of opinion with a friend or family member? 

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Comments (10)

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  1. Jeanie says:

    Hi Catherine

    I totally agree with you I have a friend who wont get her booster, she seems to be only thinking of herself and fails to see the bigger picture about protecting us all from covid, I have lost all respect for her but the worse thing for me is she didn’t even tell me she hadn’t had the booster and was still socialising with me!! How selfish, I can’t forgive for her this, as if she had of told me I could of then made an informed choice if it was worth the risk to socialise with her.
    I’m very angry about this,

  2. Catherine says:

    I’m reading all these advice articles to try and reason or approach friends with this or that angle, and frankly, I’ve had it with a few very old friends of mine who won’t get vaccinated. I just simply have lost all respect.

    One just emailed me that both she and her boyfriend got Covid and are in quarantine and that the guy works at a restaurant in Crestone Colorado (in a county that has only a 31% fully vaccinated rate.) What kind of idiot works in a restaurant where you can potentially expose many people to a potentially deadly or life-altering illness because you won’t get vaccinated in the middle of a global pandeic with varients coming about?

    They not only endanger others’ health, but mine as well, potentially, if I choose to hang out with them. And this friend of mine claims she’s not anti-vaccine, but just doesnt’ think enough time has passed to see what kind of damage the vaccine will do…it’s “new technology,” she says And I know this girl is dumb enough and mental enough in her own right that no matter what I say, it won’t make a difference. I’ve known her for many years. Our frendship has gone through many trials and it was on tentative grounds when she reached out and we started emailing again.

    In another case, I could have seen my oldest best friend in Montana, who also believed at one point that Bill Gates was putting a microchip in the vaccine. I’ve really just been pretending to some extent at that friendship. When I went to visit my fully vaccinated family in Montana, I couldn’t hang out with her because I won’t hang out with unvaccinated people when I have parents in their 80’s to protect who are trying to get a booster shot. There are too many breakthrough infections by now. I hear about them from a few people I know who are vaccinated.

    I simply don’t want this virus in my body, just as much as they don’t want a vaccine in theirs. I have underlying health issues and dont’ need more. So while my friends are worried about the bad effects of a vaccine, I am worried about the bad effects of Covid and the next varients to come along.

    I’ve had enough! I’d like life to go back to more normal like other countries, such as Norway has managed to do because they have smarter, more community-minded, less gullible, less brainwashed people in them.

    At this point, I don’t respect my friends anymore. I don’t feel empathy. 700,00 people or more have died and now children are dying. The vaccine has not harmed me in the least so far and it’s what we need and must do to end this pandemic and save lives. I want friends who understand this by now. If they don’t, I really don’t believe they are worth having as friends. This may be harsh, but it’s what it’s come down to for me. How I can keep being uncomfortable in friendships and not have the friendships be affected?

    I can pretend, but at some point my level of disgust takes over and I can’t partially fake a friendship and also remember the good things and hang on to that at the same time. I guess I will be polite and hope something changes for them in the future, but I won’t be spending time with them and my communication wtih them has dropped way off. I don’t reach out unless they do. I want to make different friends by now. The friends who are vaccinated and care about what’s going on out there (beyond just themselves and their nebulous fears,) I appreciate all the more. We have values in place and in commmon, basically.

    Sorry this is a judgemental rant, but I can’t fake how I feel and I want peace in my life and to see this pandemiic start coming to and end, not idiots who are only adding to the problem.

  3. Ez says:

    My friend doesn’t wear masks or social distance. She’s unvaccinated and has never been tested for Covid. She believes it’s like the common cold and that it would be better for our immune system if we were all exposed. She leans down to talk to my children (who are too young to be vaccinated). Today she was at the park, unmasked and she was giving my son food. I said Please don’t, I have a different view of Covid risk than you.
    She took offence and I have felt angry and bad about the interaction all day. My kids can’t protect themselves from Covid and I feel she is being incredibly selfish. How should I have handled this??

    • Catherine says:

      It sounds like you handled it as well as you could. The thing that gets me is the lack of empathy involved with her. They know you are concered and your kids can get sick and they can’t bother to take into account what would make you feel more comfortable as a friend. Personally, I’m beginning to see some real distances (not just social) develop between myself and a few friends.

      I’m personally angry that it’s incumbant upon us to “handle” these things when they act clueless or like your concerns are not a big deal because they aren’t concerned.

    • Cat says:

      You handled it just fine. Too bad your friend didn’t have empathy towards your concerns.

  4. Sandra says:

    This is a hot button issue — thanks so much for covering it here. I agree with the person in the above comments who said that she feels she has a right to protect herself and her family. I tend to avoid people who haven’t been vaccinated, though I wouldn’t necessarily end my friendship with them. Luckily, the folks I hang with are all proactive, and they all got vaccinated early on.

    The scary thing is, I’m seeing a lot of breakthrough infections in my area. Several of my neighbors now have Covid, and they are vaccinated. They all picked it up from someone who WASN’T vaccinated. A cautionary tale.
    We all have a right to live our lives as we see fit. That might mean avoiding people who are posing any kind of danger to us.

    • Irene says:

      Guess we need to learn how to nurture socially-distanced relationships with the unvaccinated.

      • Diane says:

        Just wondering how people feel now a year later. Almost everyone that I know who has been vaccinated and boosted has gotten Covid.

        At first we were told that if you were vaccinated that you couldn’t get Covid or pass it on. President Biden said so! So did Fauci and the CDC.

        Now the dialogue has changed. Now they tell us that those who have been vaccinated but get Covid will not get severely ill or hospitalized. I have not seen studies proving this but I have seen and heard of people who have been injured from the vaccine. Myocarditis is serious and more common that originally thought from those who received the mRNA vaccine.

        I spent hours online researching about the pros & cons of the vaccine last year. I went beyond MSN news and had to wade through all kinds of news outlets. Some good and some not so good.

        In the end I decided not to get it because I was afraid of the vaccine. More afraid than Covid which has a 99% survival rate. I have personal reasons not to put all of my trust in the medical and pharmaceutical industry.

        As it turned out a Pfizer executive admitted to Rob Roos, a Dutch member of the European parliament a few weeks ago in October that the vaccine was never tested for transmission before bringing it to market. There wasn’t enough time since they needed to move at “the speed of science” There are YouTube videos online showing this exchange.

        So you have huge pharmaceutical companies standing to make tens of billions of dollars with no liability (if you are injured from the vaccine you can’t sue them) and no long term studies….What can go wrong?!….but if you say that it’s “Safe & Effective” constantly it becomes true to the public.

        So getting back to the topic at hand about friendship. I told my friends how I felt and that I wasn’t vaccinated. Many chose not to be around me. Yes it hurt but I had to do what I felt was right for me. I went out and continue to go out often but never got Covid.

        • Irene says:

          In the course of a year, the medical field has made strides in treating COVID (for example, less use of ventilators, use of antivirals, etc.) but it hasn’t gone away. Seems like people will have to make personal decisions for the forseeable future:-(
          Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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