How Do I Navigate COVID Precautions Around My Anti-Vax Family?

I don't want to snub anyone

Q: Hi APW,

My partner and I are both back to planning our August 2021 wedding after postponing from August 2020. We just had my sister’s wedding in April, where their lowered guest count was hosted outside and masks were provided but not readily used. My family had a great time in April, and are looking forward to joining us in August.

However, some concerning information came to light during the sister’s wedding weekend. Among our aunts and uncles are medical professionals and supporters of coronavirus vaccine access, as well as newly public conspiracy theorists who believe that the coronavirus vaccine causes both infertility and autism (I really wish I were kidding about this). My sister’s wedding was spent keeping the peace among the pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers bickering and sniping about opposition to their beliefs.

Flash forward to now—my partner and I feel deeply fortunate to have received our Covid vaccinations. Further, our planning for August needs to include accommodating the several immunocompromised members of my partner’s family as they attend our downsized wedding. My partner and I are considering asking wedding guests to be vaccinated for our wedding to keep every guest attending as safe as possible. At this point, we would rather have family members skip out on our wedding than on the health of the general public.

My question: how the hell do I not make this email look like a snub to the anti-vaxxers in my family? On a personal level, I think the anti-vaxxers are being ridiculous but on a planning level, I’m genuinely concerned and feeling guilty about starting shit between my parents and their siblings. Good God, we need help.

—No Time for Nonsense

A: Dear NTFN,

First of all, “Good God, we all need help,” is the big mood right now, so just remember that you’re not alone. Everyone planning a wedding, everyone negotiating a social situation, we’re all dealing with it.

And also? Thank you. Because not everyone is being this thoughtful. And as someone with two small children (it feels like the world has forgotten that small children can’t be vaccinated yet), and an immunocompromised parent, I think about this constantly. In fact, we’re invited to family events this summer that we’re not sure we’ll be able to attend, because the kids are not vaccinated, and as you point out, once people get together and start celebrating, the masks seem to come off really quickly. And in our case, nobody seems to be paying any real attention to the fact that kids aren’t and can’t be vaccinated, which means we assume there will be no real safety precautions, which means we may well not feel like it’s safe to go (or at least to take our kids).

I tell this story not to bitch about my own current predicament (ok, well fine, maybe a little), but to remind you of what you already know on some level: you will be making a choice to exclude people no matter what you do. You can make a choice to exclude the anti-vax conspiracy theorists, or you can make a choice to exclude the immunocompromised, and people unable to get vaccinated. And it’s clear that you know the right answer. But how do you achieve it?

First, I think you’re right. I don’t think sending out a black-and-white email that says “get vaccinated or don’t come,” is going to be the most graceful way to go about this. First of all, there are people who can’t get vaccinated (small kids, folks with medical issues), and those are the people we aim to protect with herd immunity, not exclude. And second, you don’t want to start a family WWIII.

This is where I want to give you a perfect, foolproof answer. But unfortunately, my 13+ years of wedding industry expertise didn’t come with a pandemic bonus pack. So I can only lean into the advice we always give.

  • Communicate as much as you can, as many ways as you can. Have your parents or other relatives put out the word that vaccinations are expected, masks are required, and anyone who wants to debate those facts should stay home, because that’s not what the wedding is about.
  • Be clear on your wedding website what your stance on the issue is, and what you expect from your guests. (TL;DR: basic human decency.) This is a great time to set boundaries and expectations. Make it clear that you don’t want vaccines debated at your wedding, and you’re going to expect compliance with basic health and safety protocols. If that makes people mad and makes them want to stay home, well, that’s a win/win.
  • Follow health and safety protocols. Vaccines are currently our best line of defense, but given that you’ll have immunocompromised folks in attendance (and there are variants that we don’t fully understand), encourage mask-wearing and distancing.
  • Talk to the immunocompromised folks coming, and ask what they’d prefer, and how you can make them comfortable. Immunocompromised folks are generally roundly ignored (and they are NOT new at this game) so they’ll likely be delighted to be asked how you can best protect them. Keep it real and honest with them, yourself, and everyone.
  • And, if there are people you feel like you need to un-invite, do it. These are hugely important issues that are way more important than people’s feelings. It will, undoubtedly, feel like a snub to anyone you end up uninviting. That will suck. And, you are doing the best you can with what you have.

At the end of the day, all we can do is our best. And everything in this moment has some risk to it. So communicate (over-communicate) and make hard calls if you need to with as much grace as you can. And at the end of the day know that immunocompromised people will make whatever decision is best for them, but giving them a clear idea of what to expect will help them make better decisions.

Good luck, and I’m so proud of you for all the thought you’re putting into this.


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