Even though COVID-19 vaccines are widely available to most American adults, some are still refusing to get a shot even as the highly contagious Delta variant rips across the country. The overwhelming majority of new COVID-19 cases in the US are among the unvaccinated. The same is true for COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.
Even Jennifer Aniston has cut people out of her life who refuse to get vaccinated. “I feel it’s your moral and professional obligation to inform, since we’re not all podded up and being tested every single day,” she said.
BuzzFeed News asked readers to share how they’re dealing with unvaccinated friends. We received hundreds of responses that detailed a range of experiences, from people ending friendships altogether to choosing to uninvite loved ones from weddings and parties. But more than anything, we heard stories of frustration and sadness, revealing how COVID-19 has transformed not just the country, but our social structures, too.
Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and style. Some people asked only to be identified by their first name or to remain anonymous.
Cutting them off
I have lost two friends because of vaccine differences. I’m fully vaccinated and they are refusing to get the jab. We’ve stopped hanging out because it’s actually dangerous for me to be around them when they could be carrying the disease. I’ve tried telling them that there can’t be any long-term effects, it’s proven technology, but they won’t listen. They keep trying to show me these propaganda videos where there are apparently loads of top scientists and medical professionals speaking out against the vaccines but are being silenced. I know these people can’t be right because the vaccines are safe and effective. I don’t understand how they’ve been brainwashed by these scaremongerers. So we can’t hang out for safety reasons, as well as stress prevention reasons. It just gets nasty.
—Jay Maher, 25, London
I have had a friend since we were 2 years old. She thought COVID was fake and refused to wear a mask. Long story short, she tried to come to visit my 3-month-old daughter while being positive for COVID-19 and she didn’t even tell us until the day of. I told her not to bother coming and I haven’t talked to her since. —Caitlyn Ellis, 22, Connecticut
One of my best friends and I had a huge blow-up in summer 2020. It started with her posting about that “Plandemic” documentary online and that, for me, was crossing a line. I had been able to keep quiet and respect her beliefs about the medical industry until then, and I got really angry. It’s been an entire year and we have barely spoken since. We had been best friends since 2005, so it’s been really hard. I thought I could talk some sense into her. It turns out I was wrong. She and her entire family are anti-vax, so they absolutely will not get the COVID vaccine. The whole fight ended with her telling me to never speak to her again and then blocking me on social media. It’s extremely awkward between us now because we are also part of a group of six women in a group chat. We “play nice” but barely speak to each other. I am unsure what will happen when we eventually see each other in person again, but I’m sure we’ll both be cordial. At this point, I have realized that there will be no getting through to her and the harder I try, the more she’ll push back. I’ve come to terms with it. Not all friendships last forever and I guess this is where ours ended. —Brittany, 34, Wisconsin
A high school friend and I are no longer friends. She is an anti-vaxxer with a high school diploma who feels she knows “more about vaccines than the majority of medical professionals.” Yes, this is a direct quote. We dealt with the beginning of the pandemic well. She respected my wishes to be safe but was upset when I would not attend the dedication of her children to their new church. She accused me of having stopped living my life (because I had not been home in over a year). She is anti-mask and proud of it. She believes that she is only responsible for her own health and nobody else’s. I have always respected her beliefs and would never have gone against her wishes regarding her kids, but she would repeatedly come after me about mine, wanting to know what research I did because the guidelines from the WHO and CDC were not to be trusted. I finally told her that her views are such a slap in the face to everyone who has lost their lives during this pandemic and to those who have lost someone. We haven’t spoken since then and I am not sorry. It is such a weight off my shoulders to not have to tiptoe around my words for fear of setting her off. —Alexandra Leuthauser, 37, Iowa
I will not see my friends who are not vaccinated. We met up early when the vaccines were rolling out and I brought up the conversation asking why they won’t get vaccinated and the response was because of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. I got really angry and went and sat in the car until my husband and them finished happy hour.
—Rebecca, 38, California
A good friend from work refused to get vaccinated because she feels like it was “too rushed.” I sent her sources on why the different vaccines were able to be quickly formulated, information on funding, reliability, outcomes, side effects — everything I could think of. She just kept saying it was suspicious that a vaccine was developed so quickly, and that the “government was hiding something.” I told her I wouldn’t be around her without a mask and at least 6 feet of distance, and I wouldn’t come over for dinner or anything else. She said I had been brainwashed. I requested that my desk at work be moved and we haven’t spoken in three months. She still hasn’t gotten the vaccine. —Ronan Goforth, 25, Illinois
One of my best friends from college hasn’t taken COVID seriously and has yet to be vaccinated. I cannot wrap my head around why she refuses to take steps to protect herself and others. This prompted me to do a lot of thinking, asking why she would be so resistant and willfully ignorant. It’s created a huge unspoken tension in my friend circle. We’ve all been taking the pandemic seriously and all know someone who has passed due to COVID. I have such a hard time reconciling her beliefs with the serious nature of this global pandemic. My friends and I are debating talking to her and addressing it directly, but we’re afraid that will lead to a blowup. It’s difficult to lose a friend to the spread of misinformation and fear-mongering.
—Catherine Zimmermann, 25, Indiana
I am a minor, which means some of my friends are also underage. Some of my friends’ parents currently aren’t allowing them to get vaccinated, which makes things difficult to say the least. Some people, whom I really love and miss, I currently can’t see normally, and with the new variants I am only trying to see my vaccinated friends.
—Trudy Poux, 16, New York
I avoid talking about politics with my friends because it never ends well and then I will start having bad feelings toward them. I gave birth in November 2020 in Southern California. I was very careful my entire pregnancy so I couldn’t be happier when the vaccine was available. I got it as soon as I could. We traveled to Florida to see family and friends last month. I was excited for my closest friends to meet my baby except for one who didn’t get vaccinated. She tried so hard, but I just didn’t feel good about it. Never told her why and I still feel bad about it, but it wasn’t worth it.
—Daniela Gomez, 31, California
We haven’t cut off communication with our few unvaccinated friends, but we’ve made clear that we won’t be socializing in person until our young and asthmatic child is vaccinated. When one (potentially former) friend questioned our decision, we tersely reminded them of the three loved ones we’ve lost to COVID and the six relatives still fighting it. The pandemic has really improved my ability to be blunt and set boundaries. —Erica M., 35, Illinois
We recently moved back to the East Coast and have been happily visiting with old friends who we hadn’t seen in a while, both because of distance and COVID. Recently, we were supposed to see a good friend who I hadn’t seen in probably five years. It never even occurred to me to ask whether she was vaccinated until the day she was supposed to drive up, when she mentioned she was getting her first shot two days after we were going to see her. I was shocked. I immediately responded that while I would love to see her, it would have to wait until she was fully vaccinated. I have small children and it was just too dangerous. She was really put out and upset and I’m not sure where we stand now. I understand, but my children’s health is just too precious. —Anonymous, 39, New Jersey
We’ve told our unvaccinated friends that all visits will still be outside and distanced, and that they can’t hold our infant son. We make it clear that while their body is their choice, we won’t take risks with our family and our own lives. This is fine in the summer, but come the fall and winter, it’s going to mean not seeing them again for another six to eight months. It’s typically not awkward though; they respect our decision to get vaccinated and while we don’t agree with their decision to remain unvaccinated, we recognize that it’s their call. —Melanie, 34, Ontario
I am set to get married in November and we have decided to have a vaccinated wedding. People are coming from three different countries (COVID restrictions pending) and we have immunocompromised guests, so it seems irresponsible to not take as many precautions as we can. Out of 135 invited guests, only five are not vaxxed; two won’t come because they can’t get it due to allergies and cancer treatments; one is not vaxxed yet for unknown purposes but says she should be by the wedding; and the other two are my brother and his wife. My brother has accused me of accommodating and caring more for other people than caring about him and his family and respecting their wishes not to be vaccinated. My brother told me that I am falling into propaganda and that I only listen to what I am told to do. When my brother asked how the rest of our guests feel about being forced into medical decisions, I had to break it to him that he is the only person who cares. My brother has not told us yet if he will come to our wedding, so we will see if he accepts or declines. —Desiree, 33, California
I have a friend who literally asked me if I was magnetic now after I got my second shot. I looked them right in their face and said, “You know that’s not true, right?” This is one of my closest friends and we couldn’t be more polar opposite on the vaccine. All of my family are vaccinated and none of hers are. I just give her grace and try to talk to her when she asks me questions. This is a deeply personal choice for a lot of people, and instead of being mean and nasty or berating someone who does not want to be vaccinated, I share truths and facts when she brings it up. It does no one any good if you can’t keep sharing the benefits. Eventually they will listen. I just hope it’s not too late.—Katrina, 43, Virginia