RICHMOND, Va. -- As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, vaccination status is becoming more prevalent in peoples' everyday lives. Some businesses require proof of vaccination from customers, employers have mandated the vaccine for workers, and vaccination status can even be found on dating profiles.
But those who are hesitant about rolling up their sleeves are raising concerns. Many feel like vaccination status is becoming a form of identity and some say they feel stigmatized for needing more time to think about their decision.
"I'm going to get my second shot this Wednesday," said Hunter McAnney about his COVID-19 vaccine. After that, he'll join the 5.1 million Virginians who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I was like, you know what? I’m going to take the chance," McAnney said. "It’s not going to be that bad.”
It took the 22-year-old Richmond man nine months into the vaccine rollout to decide he was comfortable getting the shot. His choice came behind a majority of adults in the Commonwealth who are eligible for the vaccine. 72% of those 18+ in Virginia have already taken that step.
But McAnney said the road leading up to his decision unfortunately came with judgment, pressure, and even hostility at times from the public, social media, government leaders, and others in his circle.
“I feel like people were making me feel like if I didn’t get it, I didn’t care," he said.
It's a sentiment that he explained couldn't be further from the truth. In actuality, McAnney said he wanted more time to understand and analyze the facts, science, side effects, and how his friends and family members were affected. He said political division surrounding the vaccine didn't help either.
“I think it was a political, kind of a partisan thing that made me feel weird about it, and it wasn’t even that I didn’t trust the science," McAnney said. "I would never think in a million years that a medical doctrine, or whatever you’d like to call it, would somehow become a political agenda."
During his decision-making process, he wishes there would have been more conversations about the vaccine's safety and efficacy.
“No one ever really took the time to have a real discourse about how the vaccine is actually good for you and what you should do," he said.
Dr. Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University, suggests a more gentle approach to conversations with unvaccinated people.
“See the human side of everybody," she said. “Communicate as human beings. Say, 'I understand, I understand you’re scared.'”
However, Dr. Guidry said she understands why those who are immunized might be frustrated with people who are not, considering the COVID-19 pandemic is now the deadliest in American history.
“I think it’s hard to see people make decisions that we know are not going to protect them, and we know are not going to protect those around them," Guidry said. She also explained that some folks, especially health care workers and other essential workers, are exhausted and expected vaccines to improve our situation more quickly.
While pandemics and vaccines are not new concepts, she said there is one notable difference between COVID-19 and pandemics of the past: social media, which is a producer of misinformation.
“It is really hard to correct misinformation once we as human beings have accepted it," she said. "And it has nothing to do with vaccines, it has to do with how we process information.”
Guidry also explained that digital spaces don't always offer the best opportunities for a productive dialogue.
“If you’re going to have a conversation with someone about the COVID vaccine, try to have it offline or try to have it in person or over the phone," she said. "If someone is anti-vaccine, if someone decides not to get vaccinated, don’t shut the door. They may come back with questions, and they may be open to a different decision in a few months."
As those conversations continue, McAnney encourages everyone to be understanding.
“I feel like it should be a safe, not pressured environment. Because overall, it just seems very tense, and I just want it to be more relaxed," he said.
Virginians age 12+ are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Pre-registration is no longer required, so go to Vaccine Finder to search for specific vaccines available near you or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343).
Have You Been Fully Vaccinated?
People are considered fully vaccinated:
- 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
- 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
How to Protect Yourself and Others When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated
COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.
We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions—like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—in public places until we know more.
These recommendations can help you make decisions about daily activities after you are fully vaccinated. They are not intended for healthcare settings.