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Why you shouldn’t ask people how they got their COVID-19 shot before you

TORONTO — As more and more Canadians are being given access to COVID-19 vaccines, people are being reminded not to question their co-workers or loved ones as to how they were eligible to get their shot.

Public health and sociological experts urge people to mind their own business as others may have underlying health conditions they wish to keep private.

“There’s a very natural human tendency to want to know why someone got something that we want,” Maria Sundaram, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

“There are a lot of different reasons why people may be eligible… but they don’t have to disclose [them] to people,” Sundaram said on Monday. She urged people to assume that if others have gotten the jab, it is because they needed to.

Public health advocates have long lobbied on a federal and provincial level to give priority access to at-risk populations such as Canadians with disabilities or those with obesity. As part of some provinces’ Phase 2 rollout, some people in these groups, as well as those with underlying health factors, have been encouraged to get vaccinated.

Sundaram said people’s reasons for getting vaccinated aren’t always apparent, and added that it is their prerogative to explain it or not.

“There are a lot of different reasons why someone who is younger might be prioritized — chief amongst them is that they have a job that is serving all of us,” she said, referring to health-care workers and those working in long-term care homes.


Amy Hanser, an associate sociology professor at the University of British Columbia, encourages people not to give way to their curiosity or bring up vaccine eligibility first — even if they’re not “necessarily mean spirited.”

“I think one of the consequences of this whole COVID pandemic is that, suddenly, we care about aspects of other people’s lives that we never used to worry about,” Hanser told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Monday.

She added that this can manifest in people asking others, “Why did you get the vaccine?” But it can also be reflected in judging how and if others are following public health restrictions.

Don’t assume people jumped the line or say something that could be stigmatizing or embarrassing for another person, Hanser said.

“I think the best advice is just don’t ask people, especially if they don’t seem like they want to offer a further explanation.”

She admits it is normal to be feeling degrees of “vaccine envy,” in that people wish they were getting the shot too.

For example, after recent outbreaks, residents in ski-town Whistler, B.C. are being offered early COVID-19 vaccines. Although Hanser wishes she too was getting the vaccine, she said, from an epidemiological standpoint, vaccines simply need to get into the arms of those at risk.

“The only thing that really matters ultimately is that people don’t get sick,” she said.

“The vaccine has created the sense of who should get it first… and so people sometimes want to just to police that or [say] they maybe don’t agree with it,” she added.

Sundaram, who is glad that people are getting vaccinated, reminded those left out of vaccine eligibility at the moment that it is not a “zero-sum game, in that if someone gets a vaccine, it means ‘I can’t have that vaccine.’”

While many in the medical community have heavily criticizing the vaccine rollout in provinces such as Ontario for excluding swathes of essential workers, Sundaram urged them not to focus their anger on patients.

“What I find useful is, again, to keep in mind that anyone who’s getting vaccinated is benefitting me, because the more people that are vaccinated, the more benefit I get from reduced risk of transmission,” Sundaram explained.

“And to that extent, you can try to celebrate that and be happy that that’s happening,” she added.

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