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Experts say don’t assume everybody without a mask has been vaccinated against COVID-19. Nina Westervelt/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Experts are hoping the sight of vaccinated people enjoying life again in a relatively carefree manner will encourage unvaccinated people to get inoculated against COVID-19.
  • They say there is a danger that people will assume anyone not wearing a mask is vaccinated, spreading the coronavirus among crowds and gatherings.
  • Experts say it’s important to encourage unvaccinated people to get vaccinated, but not in a heavy-handed way.

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It’s becoming a more common sight.

People attending weddings and parties. Crowds gathering at sporting events. Restaurants with almost all their tables full.

Many times, the people there aren’t wearing masks. Most of them are assumed to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The big question now is whether seeing fully vaccinated people enjoying themselves with new social freedoms will prompt those who are unvaccinated to get their shots and join the club.

“From what we’ve seen so far, this seems to vary from community to community,” Kris Sims, the managing partner of Veritas Testing and Vaccines, a mobile COVID-19 clinic in Los Angeles, told Healthline.

“In areas with a high vaccination rate, where the majority of the local population has been vaccinated, there tends to be an assumption that your neighbor is also vaccinated,” Sims said. “On the other hand, when we encounter vaccine skepticism in an area, those pockets of population typically had a low adoption rate for masks early on, as well.

“That said, I think it would be safe to say that an unvaccinated person may very well be thinking that if someone is no longer wearing a mask, then they must be vaccinated,” Sims added.

And that could be problematic, Dr. Javeed Siddiqui, the chief medical officer and co-founder of Sacramento-based telemedicine provider TeleMed2U, told Healthline.

“This is the main concern,” Siddiqui said. “How do we know who is vaccinated and who is not? We have to ask. Our primary and best tool to combat SARS-CoV-2 is vaccination. As we see vaccination rates decrease across the United States, we have to be concerned.”

“What we are seeing is the significant majority of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals now are unvaccinated individuals,” he added. “We cannot assume people are vaccinated. We have to ask one another. This is why masking is still essential.”

Vaccination rates will climb but at a slower pace, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, told Healthline.

“I do worry that individuals and communities will let their guard down as COVID cases fall,” Stenehjem said. “Even with low rates of infection, we are still seeing severe diseases and death from SARS-CoV-2, and we must continue to encourage vaccination and preventative measure to keep our communities safe.”

Stenehjem said various factors will win over more of the vaccine-hesitant, including more safety data, full approval of vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and vaccines becoming available from primary care doctors already trusted by consumers.

And, yes, seeing vaccinated people out enjoying life.

“You could imagine having to show evidence of vaccination prior to concerts, travel, etc.,” Stenehjem said. “I anticipate seeing more employers and academic institutions requiring vaccination. This will certainly increase vaccine uptake.”

Dr. Tichianaa Armah, the chief psychiatry officer of Community Health Center Inc. in Connecticut, told Healthline that she actively campaigns among the vaccine-hesitant.

Armah suggests reaching out to local churches and other leaders in communities where vaccination rates are low, asking what makes people hesitant and what they would need to feel comfortable.

She said to encourage individuals to talk with people they trust who are vaccinated.

“Give them any information they are looking for and be 100 percent honest about it,” Armah said. “Do not sugarcoat anything. If you do not know an answer, say that and direct them to someone who may have an answer.”

“Don’t be shady,” Armah added. “Some people, like a patient I spoke to yesterday, are wary of those who want to [encourage] getting the vaccine with gift cards and other items. This sends high alert signals to them and may not be the best way to go.”

“Lots of needs must be met after we get through the end of the pandemic, so we do not see the disparities that were already present but highlighted this past year-plus,” Armah said.