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How to Talk About Vaccines with Your Anti-Vaxxer Family & Friends

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This is what we’re dealing with folks. Just because you read it on a truck doesn’t mean it’s true…

by Sam Devine and Jason Boyce

The Scene

Talking with Anti-Vaxxers is always tricky and important, but we’ve got a big milestone approaching. On September 9, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 14043, and Executive Order 14042, requiring the vaccination of all federal employees, contractors and subcontractors. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force settled on December 8th, 2021 as the due date to be fully vaccinated, which made the last day to get the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine the day before Thanksgiving. Just in time to discuss disease theory and politics with family!

Legal battles have delayed this, however, and many employers are now looking to January 4, 2022 as the new deadline. This makes December 21, 2021 the last day to get a J&J shot (two weeks prior to the deadline). There are also “Vax or test” requirements being enacted for private companies with over 100 employees. It’s got myriad organizations appealing and threatening to sue and judges from Oregon to Maine rejecting cases.

So, there’s plenty to discuss over turkey and cranberry sauce this year, which makes this an important time to be the voice of reason amidst a sea of misinformation. Your loved ones, friends and family alike, may be considering walking away from good jobs simply because of something they overheard. Your knowledge and tactics in communicating over the coming weeks will be key to opening dialog, salvaging relationships, and hopefully, literally saving lives.

Don’t Be A Dick

This is just a photo of a family dinner from Flickr. We have not idea if these folks are anti-vaxx or not. Photo by Ann Larie Valentine

No one wants to be told what to do, told they’re stupid, or be made fun of. If your Cousin Mitch is really a total asshole and you really want to have a muddy fist-fight on the front lawn, then by all means, tell him off. But realize that at this point you have stopped convincing him to get vaccinated and are probably causing him to dig his heels in further.

Everyone shuts down communication after receiving negativity. Don’t just tell someone what they’re doing wrong. They’ll stop listening. Most educators has been taught the Compliment Sandwich: a compliment, a critique, and a final compliment.

“Dang Mitch, that sleeveless Iron Maiden t-shirt is dope as hell, bummed to hear you’re anti-vaxx, but shit, the new exhaust on the Chevy sounds killer.”

Also, really remind yourself that whoever you’re talking to – believe it or not – is a fucking adult, just like you. They wiped their ass and tied their shoes, paid for insurance and showed up to work. They deserve your respect on some level despite how harmful their views and actions may be. C’mon, we’re all trying to figure out what the hell is going on in this crazy mixed up thing called life…

So, if you don’t feel able to listen to thier view:

Don’t discuss it.

Silence speaks volumes, and simply refusing to discuss vaccinations with someone is a viable tactic. Many people’s minds are already made up. Struggling to convince someone to change their mind may not be fruitful. As the saying goes: “Using logic on someone that won’t listen to reason is like using medicine on a dead person.”

Also, sadly, friends and family may bring the subject up as a quibbling point that’s fun for them but enraging for you. For some folks, part of the pride of being unvaccinated is knowingly putting other people at risk because of the ‘freedom’ to do so, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to convince people out of that mindset. If they’re gonna be proudly anti-vax, then walking away is better for your own sanity than trying to convince them to be better people. As this Huffpost article said, back in 2017, there’s a political divide that comes down to: “I don’t Know How to Explain to You that You Should Care About Other People.”

If you lose your cool and cause a scene, it may look bad on you, no matter how righteously correct you are. As the other saying goes: “Never argue with an idiot. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything. You can always express concern. With myriad sources of information today, it’s easier for some folks to tell when a loved one is truly worried for them than to filter through the news every day. Express your fears for them and leave it at that. “I hope you’re right but from my understanding, the vaccine could save your life. It could save you from being intubated. I don’t want that for you. Hey, anyway, could you pass the peas?”

You can also:

Book Them a Ticket to Question City

People often say things as a way of looking for confirmation. If you simply question their assertion, they will then question themselves. So, rather than telling them they’re wrong, ask them questions.

“So, where did you hear that?”

“And where did they hear that?”

“Hmm, that sounds different from what I’ve read, do you know where I could read about it?”

“And what did your doctor say?”

“Well, why didn’t you talk to your doctor about it?”

“What makes you trust Fox news vs other outlets?”

“Have you checked out BBC or BBC is pretty impartial and BrokeAss is definitely not being manipulated by corporate funding…”

When and if they’re on board:

Get On Down to Real Fact Town

Let’s say that you’ve won over Mitch to the point that you start receiving questions. Now’s the time to have facts – credible facts!! – prepared.

Write them down or have them in your phone. Have easy references to the facts.

MITCH: “Well did you hear that the CDC doesn’t even recommend masks?”

YOU: “I did hear that, but then I went to the CDC’s website. It’s easy to get to: C-D-C-DOT-G-O-V. You know that they have thousands of doctors working 24/7 to cure diseases and their budget is over $11 billion? They’re based in Atlanta. Fuck even Elon Musk doesn’t have that kinda cabbage.”

Here now, to help you prepare, are some of Le Facts:

Fact #1 – This Is Not a New Thing

Vaccination technology is based on over 1,000 years of medical research. The timeline at is a fascinating way to kill a few hours and misconceptions.

Fact #2 –  Mandates Are Old News

There is a supreme court precedent dating back to 1905, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, that says that organizations/townships/states can demand people be vaxxed in order to be around other people/utilize public resources. It includes this amazing line: “The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States does not import an absolute right in each person to be at all times, and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint, nor is it an element in such liberty that one person, or a minority of persons residing in any community and enjoying the benefits of its local government, should have power to dominate the majority when supported in their action by the authority of the State.”

In other words, “You don’t get to act like a jackass 24/7 in the name of ‘freedom.'”

Jeeze, I mean there’s insensitivity and then there’s this. Wow. Just wow.


So here’s the thing: yes, exactly. You have the right to control that which is put into your body. And in this instance, we are asking one another to get vaccinated because WE WANT PEOPLE TO STOP PUTTING THE DISEASE INTO OUR BODIES.

It is absolutely a “my body, my rights” situation. There’s just confusion about whose body we’re protecting and, as the saying goes: “Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” This is what the Supreme Court precedent of Jacobson v Massachusetts is saying: if your presence and condition will likely infect me with disease, I have a right to dissuade your presence and/or condition. You have the right to be in any condition and act any way you want to – at home. Be unvaccinated at home. Cover yourself in green jello and spin a samurai sword around your head while watching the Breakfast Club on repeat – at home. But if you wanna come to town…and hang out with the other kids…

Additionally, those human rights have been given consideration as we’ll see in the next factoid.

Fact #3 – They Can’t Sneak-Attack Jab You (Anymore)

When the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts tried Jacobson v Massachusetts (before it got kicked upstairs to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court Bell Grande Supreme, if you will…) they ruled that – while you could require vaccination and withhold services and/or issue fines, no, you could not administer vaccines by physical force to anyone – and people are allowed medical exemption; to abstain because of health concerns.

The court’s decision also stated that public health agencies couldn’t physically force because it wasn’t within their power. This is especially interesting because both Boston and NYC were absolutely performing vaccination raids in tenement slums; busting down doors, inoculating and vaccinating people and – fucking get this – taking away children that were exhibiting symptoms and quarantining them. Some of those kids were never seen again.

This is an important concession to make. Recognize that we do have a horrible, horrible history of doing terrible, terrible things out of fear in the name of disease prevention. Friends and family may be uninformed and acting out of their own fear by choosing not to be vaccinated, but they’re not completely wrong to pump the brakes. The US does have a history of forcing people, at gunpoint, to receive the Smallpox vaccine.

**This is probably a good point upon which to encourage your friends to consult their doctor regarding a medical exemption prior to getting the shot**

Opposing a vaccine mandate is also something of a moot point, because:

Fact #4 – Most Humans Have Already Received Mandated Vaccinations.

If you went to public school or were in the military, you almost certainly have had mandatory vaccinations. That’s why you don’t see people walking around with Polio these days. Just ask Muhammad Ali. The State of Florida requires up to 16 vaccinations for public school attendance. The precedent for this goes back to the 1922 case of Zucht v King. The court made a brief, but unanimous decision, based on the Jacobson case.

And, if you’re in the working trades, you almost certainly have had a Tetanus Shot a.k.a. the Anti-lockjaw shot, a.k.a. The Tetanus Vaccine.

You’re soaking in it. Get over it.

Fact #5 – The Research was Extensive.

Here are the ACTUAL RESULTS – not the “I heard they gave only 23 people the real vaccine and everyone else got a placebo.” The tests involved 43,448 test subjects. Half got a vaccine, half got a placebo.

Fact #6 – People resisted getting the Polio Vaccine, too.

There were issues with labs cutting corners, which caused a few hundred people to get full-on Polio from the vaccine. Solid bummer. So the infection fears of our friends are not completely unwarranted. There are safety concerns in getting any vaccine. Acknowledge this. Those concerns are less dangerous than getting the disease, though. That’s the key point. And science doesn’t help itself make the sale. Science admits that it is proven only 94% effective and 99% safe.

This inspirational quote hanging in a cowboy-themed diner explains why getting vaccinated despite the risk is the right thing to do.

And Elvis got the Polio Vaccine, so, yah know. There’s that. And he was a hero to most.

All of this builds to the a gestault that is the:

Fact # 7 – Explanation for How There’s Long Term Research

The Covid-19 vaccine is built on an immense amount of science – including Sars-CoV-1 in 2004. We started developing this technology a long time ago. We are simply incredibly lucky that science was so poised to utilize it.

The new vaccines incorporate older ideas in the same way that the latest car and truck engines are built on technology going all the way back to Nicolaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler, and Wilhelm Maybach. Chrysler didn’t just decide to see if toothpaste and thumbtacks in a cardboard tube would git’er down the road. “Well, our research shows that every time you start on top a hill, well, she’ll gitchya to town.” No! They refined older technology and made the piston combustion chambers hemispherical. And bitchin’ it twas.

But our science is not boundless, which means:

Fact #8 – The vaccine does not contain robots.

Sigh. It contains “nano-lipids” which means tiny fat particles. The vaccine is basically greased to get it into your body and to encounter your immune system. “Nano” does not mean “Robots.” It means “small.” And it also means “midget” in Spanish. Seriously. My Mexican surfer friend once asked me why I had a “Midget iPod.” Anyway…

Fact #9 The Evidence Continues to Show that the Covid Vaccines Work, Although They are Not Perfect.

So far, 7.12  billion people have had the vaccine.  There have been cases of heart disease linked to the vaccines. It is also possible to have an allergic reaction. But life’s a gamble. The general conclusion continues to be that more lives are saved if we can stop the disease.

No one wants it to be like this. It’s sad but it’s life. We wish we lived in a perfect world where vaccines were 100% safe. But we don’t. We live in this world where this is our best tool in the fight and some of us will die anyway. Fist in the air.

The fatality due to vaccines is kinda also the inverse of the “He died of covid, but he was 90, so is that really a covid death?” argument. Fighting disease – developing antibodies, surviving – takes energy and causes inflammation, fever, accelerated heart rate. It’s a fight. Remember when we said to look into medical exemption? Seriously. If someone is concerned, please, please, consult a doctor, not just a coworker or a friend. Consult a plumber for plumbing problems. Electrician for wiring. C’mon.

Quick Thought For Your Hunter Friends

Herd Immunity is kind of like Not Accidentally Shooting Someone.

Friends will ask, “Well, if everyone else is vaccinated, why do I have to be?”

Even back in the Smallpox era, we were aware that we needed about 90% of people to be resistant to the disease to approach herd immunity. Think of it like an unloaded gun, with the safety on, not pointed at a person. Any one of those measures would theoretically stop an accidental gunshot wound. Doing all three of them ensures prevention. It’s the same idea with staying six feet apart, wearing a mask, and being vaccinated.

The goal isn’t just to prevent one person from not getting sick. In truth, you may still get sick. The goal is to have enough people vaccinated that the disease no longer has a foothold in society and can no longer spread.

Smallpox is the only human virus that we’ve ever eradicated. Polio is not much of a concern, but it has not been completely gone from the earth for over fifty years. Like it or not, we enjoy the luxury of a Smallpox-free Earth because of some of the brutal and ethically questionable health policies of the past. As we move forward, it’s important that we work together to find ways to be effective while avoiding the inhumane methods of days-not-long-enough-gone.

Fact # 11 – Trump got Vaccinated.

Yep. Well, enough about that….

Fact #12 – Dolly Parton is a National Treasure.

Dear, sweet Dolly gave one million dollars to Vanderbilt University, which helped fund research that eventually became the Moderna Vaccine. If you don’t trust Dolly Parton, well, I don’t know what the fuck to tell yah. She’s got a voice like an angel, a rack like a centerfold, and a sense of humor to rival George Carlin.

When she received her first shot, during the early stages of rationing the vaccine, she said, “I’m old enough to get it, and I’m smart enough to get it… you should get out there and do it to”

Another great Dolly quote along those lines is: “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… I also know I’m not blonde.”

Golly, she’s just the bee’s knees.

See how we quickly changed the subject there?

Could you pass the cranberry sauce?

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Sam Devine

Sam Devine

Sam Devine is drawn to art, bikes, song and drink like the proverbial moth to the moth-heroin. He plays music, tends bar, and makes silly animations. In addition to writing for he's appeared in several publications, including MotoSpirit, SF Bay Guardian, Motorcyclist magazine, SF Weekly, and The Kiteboarder. Check him out at