Boosters & breakups: 16% of couples still divided over COVID-19 vaccinations

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Does your relationship feel like it’s in serious need of a booster shot? Researchers from Washington State University find a small but significant portion of couples are still at odds over the COVID-19 vaccine. In other words, one partner has their vaccine while the other does not. Talk about awkward dinner conversations!

The team interviewed 1,300 people living with a significant other. Most of the couples (63.28%) were “concordant,” meaning both received their COVID vaccinations. Just over one in five couples (21.09%) were totally unvaccinated. However, nearly 16 percent of participants were in a “discordant” relationship, meaning one person had their shots and one did not.

Generally, study authors also report that a significant other usually held great sway over their partner’s opinions and health decisions.

Vaccines clearly decrease the likelihood of infection and severity of illness, so discordant couples could be a real focus of identification and intervention efforts,” says study author & WSU psychologist Karen Schmaling in a university release. “The numbers might be small in this study, but in terms of public health – if this translates to about 16% of the U.S. population, that’s a huge number.”

What beliefs are keeping couples apart?

Members in discordant relationships had to list 10 reasons they were avoiding the COVID vaccine and rank them on a scale from 1 to 10. Participants on both sides of the vaccine debate listed “vaccine safety” as the most important reason why they or their partner is against the vaccine. However, there were notable differences when it comes to some of the other reasons dividing couples.

Vaccinated participants cited the claim that “COVID-19 isn’t real” and concerns over medical issues as top reasons why their loved one is against vaccination. Meanwhile, religious reasons were not as strong of a driver for vaccine opposition.

On a more detailed level, study authors note that many people felt the need to write in very specific explanations why their significant other won’t get the COVID vaccine. Examples include statements such as “the government is overstepping its bounds” and “he’s stubborn.”

Similarly, unvaccinated individuals offered a few more personalized explanations including, “I am not afraid of COVID” and “I have natural immunity.”

These findings are noteworthy, but study authors stress the need for further research. To start, the team only surveyed one person in a particular couple, not both members. Dr. Schmaling also cautions that it’s possible some relationships were discordant due to other external factors, such as one member of a relationship getting vaccinated to comply with a mandate from their job.

“The first thing is to try to estimate how common this is, and the next is to figure out why,” she concludes. “If it looks like there’s a disagreement, it would be fascinating to find out from some of these couples what their conversations have been like and how have they tried to resolve it?”

The study is published in the journal Vaccine.

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