The Existential Expert on how to talk to your anti-vaxxer friend

The Existential Expert responds to your questions. Photo: Pixabay/LEEROY Agency.

The latest instalment of our weekly ‘Agony Aunt’ column looks at what to do when your friend has an ideological objection to Covid-19 vaccination.

Q: Hi Existential Expert,

My friend, who is usually an intelligent person, has decided not to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He says it’s an experimental vaccine and that the long term effects are unknown and he’d rather ‘take his chances’. He says even if the vaccine is safe, he doesn’t want it out of principle because he doesn’t agree with the government telling people what to do.

I feel he’s putting himself and others at risk – and fear he’ll have to live like a hermit when lockdown ends, and he won’t be allowed into pubs, restaurants, cinemas, sporting games, etc. Some of our mates are saying they will cut him off if he doesn’t get vaccinated.

I’m also worried about his mental health as he seems to be buying into crazy conspiracy theories, which seems so unlike him.

I want to speak with him and encourage him to get vaccinated but if you mention the topic at all, he gets very agitated and preachy. What is the best way to approach this situation?

Thanks for your advice.

Simon

Image: torstensimon/Pixabay.

The EE:

Dear Simon, 

First of all we should say that the editorial position of the Sentinel is that we are firmly anti-vaxx … only joking, but for a moment you might’ve wondered, huh? 

That’s the way with this stuff – the surprising is no longer particularly surprising. Thanks to the echo chambers of social media, contrarianism and illogicality, demonstrations of expertise are only proof of conspiracy, people screech about freedom at the same time they co-opt the bodily autonomy of women, and so on.

Unfortunately, as we reach peak vaccination levels, and the unwilling bed down on their opinions, we suspect things are only going to get worse in the next couple of months.

We’re sorry to hear that your friend has been waylaid. But good on you for not giving up on him. 

And while we would normally sympathise with your friend’s anti-authoritarianism – particularly when it comes to someone like Greg Hunt – the government in this case is backed by the medical community at large, who are backed by qualifications, years of research, experience … ya know, stuff like that. 

But the problem here is that, as you’ve found out, referring to logic and reason is not only pointless – but can make things worse. 

Nevermind that sceptics include people you probably wouldn’t buy a used car from – and now-dead-from-Covid people. Yes, of course we stan Nicki Minaj – who doesn’t – but then should we look to someone who once sang “Ice my wrists and I piss on bitches/you can suck my diznik if you take the jizzes” for medical advice?

Official music video for ‘Stupid Hoe’. Video: Nicki Minaj/Youtube.

It might be a good idea to take a more psychological approach with your friend. 

Perhaps surprisingly, vulnerable people who feel disempowered, who see this as a means to take control of what is scary and uncontrollable, often want to listen. They want to use your arguments as a means to ballast themselves in opposite-world, where they exist with their other contrarian buddies.

Intervention

With that in mind, it may be a case of checking in on him – and simply find out if he’s okay, more generally. 

His pathway to the rabbit hole of Facebook conspiracy theories could be paved with loneliness in lockdown. Maybe his girlfriend/boyfriend is threatening to leave him. Maybe he’s going bald. Maybe, as per Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend in Trinidad, his balls have swollen up and he doesn’t want to exacerbate this situation.

It could be anything triggering or exacerbating feelings of paranoia and insecurity. As you say, it’s unlike him to be behaving like this.

It certainly won’t help that other friends are threatening to cut him off. That’s just going to make him more resentful and, hence, bake in those ol’ beliefs. 

An intervention isn’t particularly easy to stage at the moment (especially considering he’s unvaccinated) – but it’ll be important to make an effort to show your support.

A Zoom chat will do – although a couple of cheeky reds, prominently in view of your camera, may not go astray – enabling him to do likewise. We’ve spoken about the benefits of sobriety earlier but, screw it, the judicious use of alcohol can go some way toward alleviating extreme awkwardness.

If, at some point, the conversation drifts into the realm of vaccination, you’ll both be in a convivial state in which to challenge some of the tenets of his position. Avoid preaching, hectoring or pointing and laughing at him (as much as you might feel so inclined). As with most situations, compassion is key.

And definitely remind him that one of the side-effects of the vaccine is that he’ll be able to hang out with you and the rest of your pals in the near future.

Good luck!

Love,

The EE

A panacea for uncertain times, The Existential Expert is a forum where the Sentinel will address the essential questions, you – our readers – have posed. If you have a conundrum, whether it’s spiritual, philosophical or just something that makes you break out in a rash, tweet or DM us @sydney_sentinel. New columns published each Sunday – and you can check out previous ones here!

Disclaimer: The advice provided in this column is no substitute for professional advice, and should not be treated as such.