It helps that a lot of the swag is cute, and it’s a low-key, affordable way to commemorate the beginning of the end of a life-changing year. I picked up an enamel pin from Etsy, where small, adorable vaccination merch has proliferated. The CDC has printable stickers, as well as digital resources for posting your vaccination status on social media. You might also want to check local businesses for apparel options too.
Address the Ambiguity
When shopping for pins or T-shirts, try to avoid sporting slogans that are scolding or aggressive.
“I don’t think being snarky helps,” says Susan Krenn, executive director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. “It can be off-putting and just furthers the divides that we’re already feeling around masking and vaccination, and how politics has come into that.”
Krenn’s job is to work with governments and communities to encourage people to adopt healthy behaviors. During the Covid-19 pandemic, those behaviors included masking and vaccination.
“This timeline has been incredibly challenging, because things change so quickly,” Krenn says. “Even if it’s a year and a half old, it’s a new pandemic. We have to be flexible or adaptable as we move forward. The ambiguity makes all of this harder.”
It’s OK to err on the side of caution, Krenn says. There are still many settings where the mask mandate remains clear, such as public transportation, health care, and places where large groups of people congregate indoors, like churches. In more ambiguous areas, we’re all learning to navigate a respectful, comfortable language of consent. I’m vaccinated, are you? Do you feel comfortable taking off your mask, or do you feel comfortable if I do?
Whichever way you choose to talk about vaccination, stay respectful and remember that there are valid reasons why people are staying masked. Maybe they’re immunocompromised or they don’t want to risk infecting unvaccinated young children at home.
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Take Your Time
Everyone I spoke to says there are many instances where they will continue wearing masks, especially in health care or crowded settings. Even as the CDC’s guidelines relax, wearing a mask doesn’t mean a person is unnecessarily paranoid or doesn’t believe in science.
“Mask wearing shouldn’t necessarily go away,” Krenn says. “Continued mask-wearing signals that even if I’m vaccinated, there may be people around us who aren’t. This is a preventative measure that we take for people who can’t get vaccinated. And the pandemic is not over. We’re in great shape from where we were a while back, but it’s not over.”
When I related my story about my neighbor and our mask confusion, the researchers I spoke with laughed and said that situation was not as bad, nor as uncomfortable, as it felt at the time. “It’s actually a good thing that we are being cautious about it,” Viswanath says. “Most people are like you and this person. We are complying with public health regulations. The messages have reached us. We focus on the fighting on airplanes, but most people are doing the right things. I think it will take some time to get over that discomfort, and that’s perfectly fine.”
And even if many of us are confused by the CDC’s guidance, that does not necessarily mean it is wrong, or that mask-shaming anyone—for wearing or not wearing one—will help move us closer to the goal of reducing infections.
“I believe that the CDC’s guidance was grounded in science,” says Neil Maniar, director of urban health in the Master of Public Health program at Northeastern University. “There’s been a good amount of recent research coming out showing that the vaccines are far more effective than even what we initially believed, and there is evidence that we can start to relax some of the restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals.”
But as Krenn stressed, the pandemic isn’t over yet. Maniar says people should not let down their guard too soon or there will be another surge.
“The more that we can communicate the importance of the vaccine in an honest and transparent way that can address the concerns and try to reduce the divisiveness around this, the greater the likelihood that we’ll be able to put this pandemic behind us once and for all,” he says.
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