‘How Did You Qualify?’ For the Young and Vaccinated, Rude Questions and Raised Eyebrows

Medical privacy has become the latest casualty of vaccination efforts, as friends, co-workers and even total strangers ask intrusive questions about personal health conditions.

By Tara Parker-Pope

When Helena Jenkins, 23, recently asked to leave work early for a vaccination appointment, her boss at a Nashville retail store was incredulous.

“Well how did you get that?” he asked.

Ms. Jenkins was embarrassed, but answered truthfully. “Um, my weight,” she stammered, referring to the fact that, in Tennessee, a body mass index of 30 qualified her for vaccination in early March. “I had a moment of ‘ugh,’” she said later. “It made me so uncomfortable, but it didn’t click until afterward that I definitely didn’t have to answer that.”

As public health officials push to get more at-risk people vaccinated, many of the newly qualified are discovering an unwelcome side effect of vaccination: Intrusive questions about their personal health.

The majority of states now have expanded vaccine eligibility to include people with underlying health conditions that put them at risk for complications from Covid-19, such as high blood pressure, a compromised immune system or obesity. As a result, the demographics of the vaccine waiting lines have shifted from mostly older people and now include many seemingly healthy people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Young vaccine recipients say their friends and co-workers are intensely curious about the appointment process, and as a result, often ignore boundaries about personal health that they never would have crossed in the past. Some of them ask directly: “What health problem allowed you to qualify?”

When Amy Coody, 43, a mental health worker in Montgomery, Ala., told her friends and colleagues she had a vaccine appointment, she was shocked when it felt like people were judging her and assuming she had taken another person’s spot in line. Ms. Coody knows that she looks young and healthy, but she qualifies for two reasons — her work takes her into hospital settings, and she also has an underlying health condition that puts her at high risk.

“The hostility was definitely there,” she said. “They’d be like, ‘Wait, how did you get an appointment?’ I wasn’t prepared for that kind of reaction. It took me off guard so I eventually stopped telling people I planned to get the vaccine.”

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