More than 50 million people in the UK have received at least their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. But getting here hasn’t been without some bumps in the road. Hell, we are still very much on said bumpy road.
Along the way, we’ve lost a lot — lives, jobs, milestones, and dreams. One tally that's been missing is the number of relationships lost to divisive opinions and anti-vax sentiment. Whispers through the rumour mill ask if you’ve heard about that friend of a friend who isn’t letting their parents-in-law meet their granddaughter because they’re unvaccinated. Or that sister who is uninvited from her family’s Christmas plans because she refuses to get the jab.
The underbelly of these conversations mirrors the nervous chuckles we have among acquaintances, casually throwing in a, “oh yeah, we’re all vaccinated, right” in the middle of conversations, fingers crossed behind our backs.
The refusal to be vaccinated has driven a wedge between many relationships. We spoke to three women about their experience of losing relationships with fiancés, fitness instructors, and friends.
Jasmine*, an Australian-born Turkish Muslim woman, was faced with the ultimatum by her then-fiancé: to choose between him or the vaccine. Through the phone line, the 30-something-year-old’s pain and fury are palpable. As a registered nurse working in a hospital setting throughout COVID, the dichotomy of her working life versus the tension between her and her partner felt like a direct insult to her identity.
Engaged in March this year, the pair had their wedding continually rescheduled due to the evolving COVID situation in Melbourne. In the midst of this uncertainty, and with their wedding plans still up in the air, Jasmine’s fiancé continued to breach state lockdown rules, refusing to wear a mask and attending weekly family brunches when at-home visitors were strictly forbidden.
Like in many households, conversations about vaccines bounced off their living room walls.
“Initially at the start of the relationship, we spoke about dealbreakers and I said, ‘my dealbreaker is that I'm pro-vaccine, I want my kids to be vaccinated. I'm gonna say that right from the start, and there's no negotiation or debating it,” Jasmine says. “You're marrying a nurse who has more education [than you] and saying [it’s] fine,” she says in rebuttal to his health concerns.
Currently in Victoria, weddings are allowed with up to 500 fully vaccinated guests. But this easing of restrictions didn’t come as a relief to Jasmine’s fiancé.
“[He said,] ‘I don’t want to ask my guests [and] my relatives to get the vaccine when it's harmful for their health,’” Jasmine explains. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. Do you want to marry me? If the answer is yes, we [need to] do what's best for both of us for us to get married.’”
Even with that ultimatum, he still didn’t budge, resulting in Jasmine calling the wedding off. Though it was a painful way of ending the relationship, Jasmine notes that this one — albeit very important — disagreement pointed to a larger, overarching problem in their relationship.
“I think fact if [an] individual is not respecting the law and regulations as a citizen, he's not going to respect your boundaries or your values in a relationship because he's an individualistic, self-centred person,” she says. “Whereas the COVID vaccine is an inclusive movement we are doing as a whole society for our future.”
For Isabelle*, it was her wedding guest list that needed examining. The 29-year-old, whose wedding is only a couple of months away, was put into the difficult position of uninviting a friend from her big day.
“I had a close friend who's really been there for me this year and last year, especially during the pandemic. I have my wedding coming up and was looking forward to having her there,” Isabelle tells Refinery29. A face-to-face catch-up spent excitedly talking about the upcoming wedding eventually circled around to the topic of vaccinations where her friend revealed that she was “definitely not going to get it”.
“I was really taken aback by this… that made me really sad,” she says. The shock Isabelle felt made her question the entirety of their relationship. “It kind of made me realise that sometimes you’re friends with people and you think you know them so well… And then a whole new thing has come up, and it's made me feel like I didn't really know her.”
She feels a sense of grief for the relationship they used to have, as well as the loss of future memories they won’t be making together.
It’s not just the loss of a wedding invite either — Isabelle mentions that she won’t be inviting her friend to her hen’s night, or potentially other future milestone events. She feels a sense of grief for the relationship they used to have, as well as the loss of future memories they won’t be making together.
Maria* tells Refinery29 about the unexpected disruption to her fitness routine when her personal trainer revealed to her that she was unvaccinated.
“She [told me], ‘I just don't like the idea of being forced, where you don't get a say,’” Maria explains. Until then, she had considered her personal trainer to be a close friend too, so felt like she could push her questioning, asking her what will happen to her line of work. “And she was like, ‘Well I guess I just won't be able to work then.’ I was just astounded,” Maria says.
“We've had similar thoughts and ideals about most things, but [vaccinations are] something that can potentially really fracture a friendship or a relationship. And it's really sad because I actually just cannot physically see her.”
Isabelle echos the same sentiment. “[It’s] a shame; these would have been some really nice moments to share with these people. They’ll miss out on some really special important moments in my life.”
*Names have been changed for anonymity.