Offensive or ok? Asking someone's vaccination status challenges the rules of etiquette
You don’t have to ask Gerald Flecknell if he’s received a COVID-19 vaccine, his ‘Fully Vaccinated Club” t-shirt says it all.
"It’s just a smart thing to do," says the Saint John resident, adding he’d think twice before asking the vaccine status of other people.
"That’s a tough one, you probably have to know the person real well before you asked them that," he says.
An Angus Reid Institute survey found 49 per cent of Canadians believe the question is fine to ask anyone, while 22 per cent say it depends on who you’re asking.
The same survey found 75 per cent of Canadians who are unsure or unwilling to get vaccinated think the question is inappropriate.
Etiquette expert Jay Remer says asking people about their personal health information is usually something to avoid. At the same time, Remer says the pandemic presents unique exceptions to traditional customs.
"If somebody is pregnant or has a broken leg it doesn’t make any difference to you," says Remer. "But if they haven’t been vaccinated, it could make a difference to you."
“It’s a valid fear and you are well within your rights to do whatever you need to do to fix that problem.”
Remer, who is based in St. Andrews, N.B., says etiquette is still important if you choose to ask the question.
"The cardinal rules of 'don’t embarrass people in public' and 'think about how other people might feel about what you’re about to say before you blurt it out,' those kinds of things, those haven’t changed," he says.
The Angus Reid Institute survey also found 46 per cent of vaccinated Canadians say it’s 'unlikely' they’ll want to spend time with unvaccinated people.
Etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau says people have the right to only invite vaccinated people to private events, like a family wedding or backyard barbecue if that’s what makes them feel comfortable.
"Safety and security first," she says.
Blais Comeau suggests the decision and explanation should be clearly delivered and not by text or e-mail.
"Pick up the phone," she says. "This is one of those (situations) where you want them to hear your voice, your feelings and you want to hear theirs."
Blais Comeau, who is based in Ottawa, says there may be another way to learn someone’s vaccination status without actually asking.
"Volunteer your status first, and then observe the body language," she says.
"Even with a mask, look at those eyes, look at the person going backwards, forward, the frowns, the crossing of the arms. Then you’ll know what should follow up, whether you should ask or not."