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So your friend’s an anti-vaxxer. Should you dump them?

Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy in South Africa. Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency(ANA)

Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy in South Africa. Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Aug 26, 2021

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There’s been a subtle shift in the world’s collective psyche.

The battle lines have been drawn between pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers –there’s no middle ground, and this isn’t the time to be sitting on the fence.

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When registration for the over-18s opened last week, Gen-Z headed the call with outstretched arms and vaccination selfies. Either you were in or out.

We’ve seen it on social media and being discussed in hushed tones at family gatherings.

The decision to get vaccinated has left many in a precarious position.

Long-standing friendships have disintegrated, unable to stand the pressure of the anti-vaxx retort, while romantic relationships find themselves reaching a screeching halt.

“We are seeing divisions among friends and family based on their choices on whether to vaccinate or not,” says counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum.

“While we are all allowed to make personal choices, the choice in this case has more serious implications. It is not just about differing personal choices, but about beliefs and values,” she adds.

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Protesters demanding Florida businesses and government reopen march in downtown Orlando. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, ’anti-vaxxers’ had doubts about the origin and nature of the virus itself. File picture: John Raoux/AP

Twitter has become a hot pot for debate. Just recently, I came across a tweet from someone mentioning having a partner that’s not been vaccinated: “Imagine your pillar of strength not being vaccinated? Your boyfriend that you think one day will marry you. Shame – leave him today.”

The memes are just as funny yet cautionary – “My mommy said I can’t be friends with you because you’re not vaccinated.”

“We need to realise that it takes too much energy having heated debates and trying to get others to change their stance,” explains Beekrum, who is also a motivational speaker and mental health advocate.

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“It makes more sense to set boundaries for our protection and peace of mind. Each of us can set boundaries that work for us and help us feel safe.”

Beekrum says that this might mean deciding who you will socialize with and under what circumstances.

“E.g. seeing only those family and friends who are fully vaccinated as it poses a lower risk. Or only seeing others who are vaccinated outdoors.”

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At the end of the day, your decision is based on science and not hearsay and conspiracy theories. “Each of us has to decide what makes us feel safe based on the science. Avoid emotional debates. So think about what works for you and communicate it with the anti-vaxxers in your circle,” says Beekrum.

Even ’Friends’ actor Jennifer Aniston has has stopped meeting with people who refuse to disclose if they've had a Covid-19 vaccine. Picture: Reuters

So how do you explain yourself without going round in circles? First of all, use “I-language” when you communicate.

“It’s easy to get into a heated debate when you make it about the other. So speak about what makes YOU feel safe or unsafe. Such conversations are uncomfortable. Be firm in your mind about the reasons for your stance, so you are able to stick to them and not allow the conversation to get derailed,” she advises.

Secondly, ensure that they understand that you do love or care for them – that you do miss them and wish that you could see them.

“This is important so that they understand that your decision is about protecting yourself and your loved ones. You may decide and communicate alternatives for ‘socialising’ with them – perhaps via video call,” she adds.

“As much as this topic is a sensitive and emotional one, stay away from judgement. It is unlikely that you are going to change someone's mind by criticising their decision. Keep the focus on your own safety,” concludes Beekrum.

At the end of the day, “decide on what makes you feel safe and communicate it with respect”.

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