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My sister is an anti-vaxxer and it’s ruining our relationship

WORDS BY CAMILLE HARE

“We all know someone like my sister. It might be your own sister, perhaps an old high school friend or coworker. They’re everywhere.”

Growing up, my older sister and I were close. I wasn’t worried about starting school because I knew she would be there. She let me borrow her clothes, and later her car. And when I turned 18, she took me out with her friends most weekends.

We had our differences like any sisters. She was blonde, I was brunette. She only had eyes for Leonardo DiCaprio, while I preferred Jonathan Taylor Thomas. But mostly we loved each other and were friends as well as siblings.


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But as we grew older, the cracks started showing. Until finally last year, bolstered by a global health pandemic, there was no longer a few measly cracks – there was a gaping hole smack bang in the middle of our relationship. She’d taken her stance on COVID-19 and the vaccine like a sledgehammer, shattering what little was left of our close bond.

It started in March last year. First came the fear. She and her husband locked themselves in their home, took time off work and shut themselves away. Next came the blatant refusal of government orders, claiming they were taking away our freedoms and they would no longer be complying. Then came the conspiracy theories. In particular, 5G.

Videos were shared, opinions broadcast on Facebook, and fingers were pointed at the media for their involvement in what had by then become a global pandemic. (At the time, I was reporting for an Australian news site, so that was a lovely little dig.)

We grew up under the same roof, with the same parents, had the same education, watched the same nightly news, and for the most part, had the same life experience. Hell, we even had the same vaccinations up until our mid-twenties. So how then do two people have such widely different viewpoints on vaccinations?

In hindsight, it shouldn’t shock me. She has always been impossibly stubborn and eager to prove a point. She has always been aggressive with her opinions. Where I see situations in shades of grey, for her they are black and white.

But until 2020, her opinions weren’t peppered with the types of dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories found in the bleakest corners of the internet. We all know someone like my sister. It might be your own sister, perhaps an old high school friend or coworker. They’re everywhere.

Conversations about the vaccine are happening all over Australia right now. Sadly, for the most part, people who are opposed to the vaccine like my sister won’t be open to changing their minds. And while I could wax lyrical about the dangers of the misinformation they’re spreading or quickly dislodge their theories, at the end of the day, they’re not interested in logic or reason.

And therein lies the bigger problem. A relationship – whether romantic or platonic – requires communication and acceptance. It requires a level of respect for each other’s opinions and holding space for the other to make their own choices.

But it’s not the pro-vaxxers that are screaming their opinions from the rooftops. I’m yet to come across someone who is posting with the same vigour as the anti-vaxxers that are populating social media in 2021. The morning I was due to have my first vaccination, a text came through to our family group chat: “I have to say this as I’d never forgive myself if something happens in the future,” it read.

“Please think about this trial vax before just getting it because someone told you to. I’ve seen lots and won’t be getting it for now. I only share this message because I care about you all…. No reply necessary.”

I responded, thanking her for her concern, but expressing how excited I was to be having my first jab later that day. My younger sister followed suit, with hers booked two days later. We believe in science and want to contribute to the greater cause.

I recently had my second dose, and frankly, it was such a humbling, wholesome experience. You leave with a sticker and a smile, confident in the knowledge that you’re part of the solution. Partly responsible for our way out of this mess and back to freedom. For me, it’s not about jetting off to Europe next summer, though that would certainly be nice.

I got vaccinated so that I can hug my ageing grandparents, so that the restaurants I love can afford to stay in business and so I can visit my friends interstate. I got vaccinated so those in hotspots can have a reprieve from homeschooling. So they can see their friends, their parents, their coworkers. So the suicide rate will drop and the economy rise. So school children can be reunited with their friends and have a shot at a normal education, outside the constraints of a Zoom screen.

Seeing the lack of empathy and logic behind my sister’s choice has left me baffled. Angry. Disappointed. Confused. Hurt. I wonder if we’ll look back in ten years and see this as the fork in the road of our relationship? I wonder if she’ll care? I’ve come to realise that just like our childhoods were similar and we grew up with similar beliefs, her beliefs now are a mirror of her current surroundings and lifestyle.

She works in the alternative health industry, and her feeds are full of like-minded individuals who all have the same level of scepticism and distrust in mainstream media and the government. Whereas I am surrounded by mostly university-educated professionals who subscribe to trustworthy news sites and live in a city prone to lockdowns. Where her freedom has never really been taken away, and she has never been required to wear a mask by mandate, that is something I have grown accustomed to over the last 18 months.

I’ve tried and failed to educate my sister on the importance of the vaccine, and I’ve failed harder at trying to squash the theories she’s built up in her mind about its supposed dangers. The thing is, this isn’t a case of who’s right or wrong – I’ve tried that angle and come up short. Many an argument has been had, texts have been sent and hurtful words have been said.

So instead I’ve had to mute her on social media in a bid to salvage what’s left of our relationship. Out of sight, out of mind. When it comes down to it, our views are as polar opposite as the colour of our hair growing up. But I guess we’re both hoping for the same outcome – a promise of good health.

For me, that means ensuring I don’t contract COVID-19 or infect anyone around me. For her, that means ensuring she doesn’t put herself at risk of long-term side effects her friends on the internet told her about.

For more information on the vaccines available in Australia, head here.

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