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As More Americans Get Coronavirus Vaccines, A New Etiquette Emerges

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Now that more Americans have received one of the three COVID-19 vaccines, we're trying to figure out our social behavior all over again. While the CDC recently released guidance saying fully vaccinated people can spend time indoors together without masks, they've so far offered no guidance on some of the finer points of what we're calling vaccine etiquette. Should you post a selfie while getting the shot? Can you question your boss on their private medical history? How do you navigate friendships where one of you is vaccinated and the other one isn't? Steven Petrow is a columnist for The Washington Post, and he writes about civil discourse and manners. And he joins us now.

Hello.

STEVEN PETROW: Lulu, it's a pleasure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pleasure to have you. A trend that I have noticed is you get the vaccine, and everyone immediately wants to know how you qualified. That's especially tricky now that you can qualify based on certain medical conditions, right? Is it appropriate to ask?

PETROW: No, it's not. And it is very tricky. What I have been saying to people is turn it around a little bit and think about the various conditions that someone may have if they don't want to disclose that qualified them for the vaccine. I interviewed someone recently who has HIV and has not been open about that, but that was his qualifying medical reason.

So it's something we're all probably curious about. But one of the things that manners and trust tell us to do is not to always act on our curiosity. I do think, though, if someone has gotten the shot and been open about it, it's perfectly fair game to ask them how did they get an appointment because if you haven't gotten an appointment, you want as much help as you can get. So that is certainly within bounds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The other thing I'm seeing a lot on social media is the vaccine selfie. What is your take on that?

PETROW: Well, it's really changed in the last two months. So initially, I was seeing, you know, among my friends and followers, medical professionals posting their selfies. And many of them said that they were doing it to set an example. They wanted people to understand the vaccine is safe. So they were role models for the rest of us. Now, you know, I'm seeing, like you, Lulu, you know, many others. And it's not really clear why they're doing it. It's a little bit of a badge of courage. I think it's a little bit of bragging. So there the question I would ask myself if I were to do it is, why am I posting this picture? You know, what am I trying to convey? Because bragging - you know, I have a problem with bragging.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I posted a vaccine selfie. And I'm Hispanic, and there's a lot of vaccine hesitancy. And I wanted to show that it was OK. The other thing I also felt is we have been through so much. I think it's important to show that there is joy, and there is something positive that is happening. I was wrong.

PETROW: No, you were right. And you know, I'd said, you know, think about your intent. So your intent was very clear. You wanted to be a role model. You wanted to show acceptance among the Hispanic community, and you wanted to show us a little bit of joy. Those are great reasons. And we - I don't know. After this year, we need more joy, and we certainly need more acceptance in the minority community. So no. Good points for you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) OK. So let's say you've been fully vaccinated, and you want to hang out with your friends. But you don't know everyone's vaccination status, necessarily, and you can't ask them. How do you navigate social gatherings during this period and not isolate your unvaccinated friends?

PETROW: When you have a social gathering, I think you want to go to the lowest common denominator. And by that, I mean think about those who might be most vulnerable, even though we don't know who they are, which means continue to be outdoors when you don't know. Continue to mask. Continue to distance. That way, you're protecting everybody, especially those whose status you might not know. And that's what we need to do, you know, to be part of a community right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Should I be telling other people that I'm vaccinated as a way to sort of make them feel more comfortable about their exposure?

PETROW: I think self-disclosure is great. Whenever someone's comfortable in doing that, they should do that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This will hopefully only be a short period in our history where we'll have to think about vaccine manners. But do you have a takeaway or a guiding philosophy for how we should be treating our fellow citizens during this time? I mean, what's your big-picture advice here?

PETROW: My big-picture advice is, you know, I look at the number of states that have now gotten rid of all of the COVID restrictions in terms of masking and so on - seven states, I believe. And it reminds me of what Edmund Burke, the 18th century English philosopher, said, and that was manners are more important than the law. So the law can mandate behavior or not, but it's really up to us to adopt and accept behaviors that take care of those we care about. So that's the whole point of vaccine etiquette and what we're talking about today, I think, at a 30,000-foot level.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Washington Post columnist Steven Petrow.

Thank you very much.

PETROW: Have a great day. Stay safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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