'I have an autoimmune disease. And I just had to break up with my unvaccinated best friend.'

Yesterday I had a difficult conversation with one of my oldest and best friends. 

I had been playing phone tag with her for two weeks, consciously screening her calls as the number flashed up every Saturday. 

I’d always follow it up with a, “sorry, just missed you” and pray she wouldn’t answer my call back an hour later. I knew what the conversation we were going to have would sound like.

I’d already spoken to our other best friend about her views on the COVID-19 vaccines - she was incredibly against it. 

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I eventually caved though. I missed talking and laughing with my best friend. Our semi-regular phone calls through our inter-state friendship the past four years, and more recently during lockdown, have always been the highlight of my week. 

Having known each other for over 15 years, it was never awkward or forced; it was familiar, funny, and close - something I’d needed while trying to establish new friendship roots in Victoria. 

So I tried my luck again, and this time she answered.

The conversation that followed ebbed and flowed, and we talked through our life updates, mental health state, family check-ins, our anger and frustration at restrictions set by each state government. I knew a mention of COVID vaccinations had to be just around the corner.  

Around the 40-minute mark, when discussing the roadmap for NSW and VIC to more vaccinated freedoms, it finally came up… She talked of not having any intention of getting the vaccine. Something I already knew, but I feigned surprise. Politely, I asked: "Do you mind telling me why?".

"A whole host of reasons," she said. "Firstly, there are no fertility studies on the effects of the vaccine in years to come."

"The vaccine doesn’t stop you from getting COVID, anyway."

"All the hospitalised patients have the vaccine anyway, so what’s the point?"

"The doctors can only tell you what the government tells them, they can’t give you an opinion."

My personal favourite though, was: "At this stage I feel like I am healthy enough and my immune system could recover from covid."

It was like a kick in the guts.

I felt nauseous, my cheeks burned and my eyes filled with tears. 

You see, I am immuno-suppressed and have an auto-immune disease, so my immune system could not handle COVID. 

I am, thankfully, also fully vaccinated, which greatly reduces my risk (which my specialist likened to that of an 85-year-old - I am decades younger than that.)

Hearing those words come out of one of my best friend’s mouth after 15 years of friendship... Well, it broke my little heart in two.

We went back and forth, but anti-vaxxers come prepared - ill-informed, I would argue - but prepared. We went through every this vs that, never raising our voices, but I could feel her digging her heels in and sticking to her words and beliefs with every passing minute.

I finally mustered the courage to tell her that if I indeed make it to NSW to see my family and friends for Christmas, I wouldn’t be seeing her. It’s not just me I was worried about, my mother is also in the early stages of emphysema. It just wouldn’t be safe for me to be hanging around unvaccinated people and bringing that risk home.

“Are you saying you don’t want to be friends?”

“Of course, I’m not saying that,” I said. 

“But you only want to be friends from a distance then? You know we’re not the only ones not getting vaccinated.”

She said it as if though it was strength in numbers game and that if I knew just how many of our friends in NSW were anti-vaxx too, I would fold to peer pressure.

And on we went. Her main driving argument was that she respected my decision to get the vaccine and if she were me, she would have too, but she doesn’t need to do that to her body because she’s healthy, and it’s a choice which should also be respected.

It's an argument I’ve seen again and again: ‘If I’m not vaccinated and I’m healthy, then what’s the problem? It doesn’t matter because you’re vaccinated’. Followed up with simple suggestions for natural supplements like Zinc and Vitamin C to help my body’s natural immune response.

I don’t remember how the conversation ended exactly. We said we’d speak again soon and see how things were by the end of the year when unvaccinated people have more freedoms.

I knew though that if she wasn’t getting vaccinated, then I wouldn’t be seeing her.

I’m not psychic, but I don’t foresee myself recovering from this auto-immune disease in 12 weeks (unless it's a Christmas miracle?) and becoming one of those healthy arrogant people who can (falsely) confidently say they’ll be fine without a vaccination, should COVID come knocking.

I called our other best friend immediately afterwards, trying to process it all. I didn’t think it hurt; I thought it was okay, but I spent the afternoon crying and reckoning with this extraordinary guilt.

Did I do the right thing by saying we couldn’t hang out? Is this the end of our friendship? How do we recover from this vaccinated vs not vaccinated choice that trickles into nearly every decision we will make moving forward, about seeing each other?

My heart aches like I’m grieving a break-up, and truthfully l am; this has been one of the longest relationships of my life. It’s too fresh to say if this is a permanent shift that will slowly fade our friendship out.

Listen to No Filter, a Mamamia podcast where each week, Mia Freedman has candid conversations with interesting people who have fascinating stories to share. Post continues after audio.

But where to from here? 

I know I’m not changing my mind on where I stand on seeing the unvaccinated. What will life look like in December or next year when the world starts opening back up to this new “COVID normal?”.

Maybe she’ll change her mind?

I never thought someone I loved would have views so opposing to mine, and that the future in which she plans for herself and her husband doesn’t have room for someone like me.

I always thought we’d be friends forever.

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