We’ve been told vaccinated people can safely hang out in groups unmasked and undistanced. We’ve also been told the post-vaccination risk of being hospitalized or dying — let alone getting COVID-19 in the first place — is extremely low.
Why, then, does it still feel so odd to make plans once you’ve been fully vaccinated? And how come it feels even weirder to tell people about those plans?
To sum it up: A lot of judgment has been cast on people’s behaviors throughout the pandemic. There’s no denying that certain superspreader events probably should and could have been avoided, but along the way, we fell into a harsh habit of shaming and blaming people for everything and anything.
A year-plus later, it’s not going to be easy to shake off all the shame and stigma that’s been placed on certain activities, so it can almost feel wrong to do certain things — like go to the gym, visit family or go out to eat — once you’ve been fully vaccinated. But evidence consistently shows us that the vaccines are incredible and drastically lower people’s risk of contracting the coronavirus. Vaccinated people should feel safer living most of their lives again ― shame-free ― per the data out on the overwhelming effectiveness of the vaccines.
Instead of feeling like you’re breaking the rules — which, you aren’t! — confidently showing others how the vaccine has helped you can be a powerful public health tool. Doing so can build vaccine confidence and you might just end up encouraging friends and family who are vaccine-hesitant to get the shots so they can enjoy some of the normalcy they allow.
Here’s why it still feels uncomfortable
The whole reason it feels awkward to make plans and share what you’re up to after being vaccinated is because so much scrutiny has been cast on people’s actions during the pandemic.
According to Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases specialist at University of California, San Francisco, the country has had a “snitch-based, shame-based approach” in which people have been shamed and called out for engaging in activities that are riskier.
“We are just shaming, shaming, shaming — even to this day, even when the CDC has said you can do this,” Gandhi said.
As a result of all this shaming, we’ve learned to equate certain activities — like indoor dining, traveling, hanging out at a friend’s or working out at the gym — as being bad or risky. We shouldn’t be shaming people for wanting to meet their broad physical and mental needs in the first place, explained Lucy McBride, a practicing internal medicine physician in Washington, D.C. And even though the risks of catching COVID-19 are still there for unvaccinated people, it’s a totally different story when it comes to vaccinated people. It’s time to update our files.
It can be tough to comprehend that activities that have been so deeply stigmatized no longer carry the same risks for vaccinated people. “Now we’re actually trying to message confidence in the vaccines, but that shame and that fear and that embarrassment lingers,” Gandhi said.
It can be helpful to talk about how the vaccine has changed your life
It can actually be extremely beneficial to talk about the ways in which the vaccine has changed our lives.
Showing that you’ve been vaccinated and are able to enjoy certain activities again, unmasked and undistanced, can give friends and family members confidence in the vaccines, Gandhi said. It could even motivate people who are nervous about the shots to go out and get vaccinated.
After all, to reach herd immunity and stop COVID-19 in its tracks, we need about 70% of the population to be immune (either through vaccination or previous infection), and right now about 29.1% of Americans are fully vaccinated and 42.7% have had one dose.
Hearing public figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci talk on television about the vaccines can be encouraging, but it’s the real stories from people in our inner circles that tend to make the greatest impact. Talking to friends and family about how the vaccine has changed your life can be a powerful public health tool.
“We should encourage advertising the freedoms you get with vaccination,” McBride said. “We need more trusted messengers.”
As more people get vaccinated, Gandhi hopes our conversations will shift away from what makes us uncomfortable to all the things we are comfortable with.
If you still feel ashamed or even embarrassed about having post-vaccine plans, remember the facts, Gandhi advised. The most recent data looked at 87 million vaccinated Americans and found there is an infinitesimal chance of a symptomatic breakthrough infection, hospitalization or dying.
If you look at the science, you’ll know that you are well-protected against COVID-19 after being vaccinated.
“Your risk of death and severe disease is gone, your risk of getting COVID-19 is so low, and every day we put 4 million shots in arms, your risk goes even lower,” McBride said. Shaming isn’t a way to motivate people. The facts, however, are.