Richard Swerdlow: The Thanksgiving Question

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

This Thanksgiving, Richard Swerdlow says there’s a simple question that’s awkward to ask.

With Thanksgiving coming, many families are planning to sit down to a meal together for the first time since life was upended by the coronavirus. But along with turkey, this holiday is famous for generous helpings of clumsy conversation. The clueless cousin asking questions about your love life over the yams, or the right-wing uncle ranting between bites of pumpkin pie are as much a part of Thanksgiving as cranberry sauce.

Arguments have always been guests at Thanksgiving and etiquette experts advise avoiding discussing religion and politics, but this year a new topic has been added to the menu of cringe worthy questions: Are you vaccinated?

While it seems a simple question, it's awkward to ask. Vaccination status is the don't-ask-don't-tell of 2021. Everybody has a story of hesitating to ask an anti-vax co-worker or neighbor if they've had the shot, since it seems so impolite.

But COVID has killed millions, and as cold weather moves us indoors and the holidays approach, it's time to make communication as catching as the virus. Everyone has a right to know all the facts to make an informed decision about level of risk. Professionals recommend asking guests about their vaccination status before a crowded indoor event. Some even suggest an “are you vaccinated?” check box on the RSVP reply for weddings. Good manners are all about making people feel safe, and an irony of pandemic party planning is that being polite requires this impolite question.


The HIV epidemic taught us when it comes to disease prevention, frank questions and honest answers can keep people healthy.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful these amazing vaccines are available to everyone. So, before over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house you go, it's OK to volunteer your own status and to ask if your dining companions will be vaccinated.

Just don't ask about religion or politics.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a San Francisco teacher.