Róisín Ingle: My unvaccinated relative asks to stay for Christmas. What would you say?

My fully vaccinated self and fully vaccinated partner don’t say yes straight away

Festive fear: After we discuss it as a family and look up cheap beds online, we decide to tell my unvaccinated relative that he can stay for Christmas.

Festive fear: After we discuss it as a family and look up cheap beds online, we decide to tell my unvaccinated relative that he can stay for Christmas.

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My unvaccinated relative who lives abroad is thinking of coming home to Ireland for Christmas. He calls to ask my fully vaccinated self and my fully vaccinated partner if he can stay in our house. We don’t say yes straight away.

There are a few issues to consider, not least the fact that we have a small home and the fact that what we used to call the spare room is now a cluttered remote working facility we call the office. Since the pandemic, there is less room at this particular inn.

Having someone to stay over Christmas would involve a fair bit of reconfiguration including the purchase of a new bed so we ask my unvaccinated relative for some time to consider his request. The fact that my unvaccinated relative is unvaccinated does not form part of these considerations.

From talking to friends and observing the public discourse, it seems clear that in not holding my relative’s unvaccinated status against him, myself and my partner are in the minority.

One friend I ask says his immediate response to the 8 per cent of the population still unvaccinated is that they are “a shower of National Party-voting thicks”. His more considered, less knee-jerk view is that “not all anti-vaxxers are right-wing, conspiracy theorists or racists. There are probably some thoughtful ones out there.”

My unvaccinated relative is neither right-wing nor racist. One of the most health-conscious people I know, he has spent a long time researching the issue even if he does have some theories I find hard to swallow. But my main reason for being open to having him stay is that even if I disagree with him, I care about him and respect his decision not to get vaccinated.

I am curious about what other people think. With the massive health warning that “it’s only social media”, I put up a poll on Twitter asking people whether they’d be okay with an unvaccinated relative or friend visiting their home. The result from just over 2,400 votes was clear. About 68 per cent say no they would not welcome them, 14 per cent say they would and 16 per cent are not sure.

(Two per cent of respondents think it is a stupid question. I always provide a “stupid question” option when I run Twitter polls because no matter what question you ask there is always somebody who thinks it’s a stupid question and it amuses me to facilitate this crowd.)

Some of the 70 per cent who say no to hosting an unvaccinated relative or friend also give reasons . S says: “I get annoyed with people who are not vaccinated. I’m not sure if it’s justified but I do.” G says: “Potentially I can still be infectious and it’s much more of a risk for them . . .” F, a physicist, says she has no adult friends or family who are unvaccinated by choice and adds: “If you don’t care enough about other people to get vaccinated then you have shown me who you really are.” J echoes this, saying: “Anyone who is unvaccinated is no friend of mine.”

After we discuss it as a family and look up cheap beds online, we decide to tell my unvaccinated relative that he can stay. We establish a few ground rules including agreeing not to discuss vaccinations or the pandemic. He agrees to this.

I want, if not a meaningful Christmas exactly, a fun-filled, peaceful one. I also suggest to him that before he decides about spending turkey season in Ireland, he’d better do a ring around other relatives to see whether he’d be welcome in their houses over Christmas.

Some people reading this will be delighted to hear my unvaccinated relative is now considering options other than Ireland for Christmas

“You think some of them won’t let me in their houses to visit over Christmas? But that’s insane,” he says.

“Funny. That’s exactly what some people think about your decision not to get vaccinated,” I tell him.

Mince pies

My unvaccinated relative does a ring around and discovers that yes, there are some who may be reluctant to have him over for mince pies. When I tell him that he’ll also need to show a Covid vaccine cert to get into restaurants and pubs – even though in my experience many places are lax about this – he begins to wonder if he wants to come home at all.

“I don’t want to be where I am not wanted and where I am going to be treated like a second-class citizen for holding a different view,” my unvaccinated relative says.

I tell him that in many other EU countries, a negative Covid test is enough to gain access to restaurants and other venues. In Ireland we only accept the vaccine cert, perhaps in the hope that this exclusion of the unvaccinated will encourage more people to get the jab (in addition to trying to protect punters and staff).

And is this exclusion fair to our fellow citizens? There are some who are prepared to discuss this but not many. “It’s becoming extremely difficult in this country to raise any question of civil rights and alternative views in terms of how to deal with the pandemic,” Catherine Connolly TD said recently in the Dáil.

She quoted that champion of rights the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, a pro-vaccine organisation that does not agree with forcing people to show proof of vaccination. “We respect everyone’s right to bodily integrity and privacy in relation to their health . . . We believe vaccination and all medical treatment should be a choice”.

Some people reading this will be delighted and not surprised to hear my unvaccinated relative is now considering other options for Christmas. He might spend it in Morocco or Sri Lanka instead.

“You’re probably better-off,” I tell him.

“I think you might be right,” says my unvaccinated relative.

roisin@irishtimes.com