Polarisation amongst vaccinated and non-vaccinated people

Dubai - Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 6:49 PM

Last updated: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 7:32 PM

Sometime ago, I had done a column on vaccine supremacy, and the kind of social politics it engendered. “Is my vaccine better than yours?” became a talking point in drawing room conversations and workplace corridors. These days, whenever I have family conference calls, my father makes it a point, every single time, to ask everyone (on the call) whether or not they’re planning to take the ‘third dose’ — the booster dose, as they call it — anytime soon (everyone in the loop is already double-vaccinated). Different people have different things to say, mostly defined by availability and legislation, but I did happen to see a friend of mine, who lives in the US, put up a picture of herself and her son on social media, Band-Aids in place on their arms, like badges of honour, announcing proudly that they have now catapulted into a different league.

Cut to the other end of the spectrum. A close friend — also living in the US — and her husband (both Pakistanis) had been desperately looking for a full-time nanny to take care of their three-year-old daughter. Everyone they interviewed fell woefully short of expectations… till they came across a seemingly perfect option. A lovely young woman with expert training in the field of childcare. “I’m so relieved, Sush,” she messaged me one evening (her morning). “This girl’s coming on board tomorrow — now I can finally be at peace and concentrate on my work.”

In a couple of hours, she suddenly called me in a state of tizzy. “You won’t believe what happened,” was her opening line. She had pinged the ‘perfect nanny’ for some last-minute stuff, and then had “rhetorically” asked: “By the way, my husband and I are keen that whoever takes care of our child is vaccinated — so I hope you are.”

“You know,” she continued, “I was actually certain she was and that I needn’t even be asking her — but then she sent this really terse message that read ‘No, I am not vaccinated, and I don’t intend to get vaccinated, so if you want a vaccinated nanny, please look elsewhere’.”

We went on to have a 15-minute chat on the matter. She was adamant this happened because they live in Texas: “They are red-necks — and stubborn as hell.” Sigh. “Now, we have to start the search all over again.”

“It’s a different kind of polarisation,” I offered. “The ‘Us and Them’ phenomenon. I’m sure they feel that we, the vaccinated ones, are stupid — and vice versa.”

The nanny incident somehow got me more interested in a matter that I had been ignoring for a while: the fact that many people around the world do not want to be vaccinated. I’d heard (but not paid heed to) there are many reasons for this: a few people say Covid is a hoax — and the vaccine is a bigger hoax; some feel vaccination can be potentially harmful (for various reasons, including ‘pseudo’-scientific ones); and then some others who believe vaccination goes against religious tenets (even though religious leaders, across all faiths, have been trying to convince them otherwise).

Now, I was keen to see if there were more in my social eco-system who were “them” — as opposed to “us”. With my blinkers off — and hearing aids on — I realised asking “Have you been vaccinated?” is a “personal” question (yes, someone actually told me that!), something one doesn’t have to respond to because it is deemed to be intrusion of a private space and because opinions can be polarising.

Soon after, I heard the following story from someone else I know. She and her partner went out for dinner with friends of theirs — who they were meeting after a long gap. Over a four-course meal, what emerged was that the friends had not taken the vaccine; and that they would not (they do not live in the UAE); and they went to great lengths to convince the other ‘side’ that they were right about their decision while the other party was “misguided”. “I was distinctly uncomfortable by the end of dinner,” this woman said. “And we’ve not been in touch with them since — perhaps it’s a conditioned reflex.”

Another person who probably belongs in the ‘them’ category told me his ilk don’t mind existing in their own bubble. “They don’t really care they won’t be allowed to travel — or not be allowed to enter public spaces… They use their car to do road trips instead of catching a flight and order in food from places where they’d be considered a ‘public nuisance’.”

Whoever said it’s only geopolitics or religion or class that causes polarisation?


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