If you’ve been taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously — you’ve worn your mask, social distanced and gotten fully vaccinated — you might be feeling anxious and angry at the current situation.
It’s understandable: You did your part, and yet here we are. States with low vaccination rates, including Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, are seeing scary new surges and unvaccinated people who pick up the delta variant are increasingly ending up in the hospital and being put on ventilators. Cases are high across the country, health care workers are being pushed to the brink ― again ― and even some people who are vaccinated are experiencing breakthrough illness (thankfully, though, the shots still do an excellent job at preventing most infections, hospitalization and death).
What else can you do at this point to help end the pandemic? Is there even a point? How do you still try to be responsible without sacrificing your mental health?
If you’re feeling extremely helpless right now, experts offer some advice on how you can still move the needle in the pandemic while protecting your sanity.
If you engage with an unvaccinated person, approach the conversation with empathy and compassion
The thought of trying to convince an unvaccinated family member, friend or neighbor to get the shots might feel like a futile (and not to mention infuriating) task at this point. People who have delayed getting a vaccine might seem as though they’ve made up their mind, but there has been an uptick in vaccinations across the country due to the spread of the delta variant. A lot of the people who’ve held off are finally realizing just how serious this all is; it’s possible that you can help reiterate that message.
“Encouraging and facilitating every single person to get vaccinated is one of the most valuable anti-COVID actions one can possible take,” said Sten Vermund, an infectious disease epidemiologist with Yale School of Public Health.
Many unvaccinated people actually aren’t stubborn anti-vaxxers, but rather victims of harmful misinformation campaigns or people genuinely worried about the safety of the shots. Instead of blaming, lecturing and shaming unvaccinated people, have a conversation in an open, nonjudgmental and safe way.
“Help answer questions, and help direct people to trusted guides and the facts,” said Lucy McBride, a practicing internal medicine physician in Washington, D.C.
As we come out of this highly charged, emotional time, it’s easy to feel anxious and angry when you learn someone has chosen not to get vaccinated. But McBride said you’ll be able to make the greatest impact if you engage people with empathy and compassion.
“If you can try to understand and listen more and shout less, you might actually change a heart or a mind,” she said.
Behave based on local transmission
You should also keep an eye on what’s going on with COVID in your community. When case rates are low and vaccination rates are high, know that you — and even those around you who aren’t vaccinated — are extremely well-protected. Look at Vermont, for example, where about 84% of residents 12 and older have received at least their first dose: Cases are low and unvaccinated kids only rarely get infected.
On the flip side, if you’re in an area where COVID is surging and sending more and more people to the ICU, you may want to consider wearing a mask in indoor, unventilated situations where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing. The risk of getting infected and passing the virus onto others, while still rare if you’re vaccinated, increases in these high-risk environments in surging states.
“Masks are a well-documented way of reducing the risk of droplet and aerosol transmission,” Vermund said.
Set firm boundaries and plan vaxxed-only events
If you want to play hardball, you can consider socializing exclusively with people who are vaccinated. Make vaccinations a requirement for your get-togethers. Not only are you unlikely to get seriously affected by COVID, but your social circles are also less likely to contract the virus and transmit it to others in their communities.
“The likelihood of any kind of serious event emerging from such an activity is vanishingly small,” said Vermund, who noted that this approach might be somewhat controversial and unpleasant — but potentially impactful.
If you do host an event where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing in an area with high transmission, it would be prudent to ask people to mask up.
Share stories about your own experience
Telling your story can be a powerful way to encourage people in your community to get vaccinated. Open up about how the pandemic has impacted your family or uprooted your life, and explain how the vaccine is our ticket back to all the things we love — work, play and school. This can be on social media, in conversations with loved ones or through local campaigns or advocacy groups.
“Be local educators,” Vermund said. “Tell your story, share your experience.”
The unfortunate truth about the pandemic is that things change, and we have to adjust to that change at a moment’s notice. What we know now about COVID-19 is different from what we knew back in April 2020, and will be different from what we understand six months from now.
The virus evolves, as do the treatment options, restrictions and recommendations. Perhaps the most impactful thing vaccinated people can do is follow the science — stay up to date with the latest learnings and behave accordingly.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.