relationship advice

[Two Pronged] My partner is an anti-vaxxer

Margarita Holmes
[Two Pronged] My partner is an anti-vaxxer
Ana's partner of 10 years has beliefs that 'just don't make sense' to her

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

My boyfriend is an anti-vaxxer.

He and I have been together for 10 years now. He’s a nice and loyal partner, and we have the same interests in almost everything, except religion. I am Catholic; he is not. Neither of us wants to convert, although I am open-minded to marriage even if we’re different. On the other hand, he wants me to convert to his religion if we ever get married.

I told him that I’ll be getting the vaccine once it’s available. To my surprise, he told me that he’s going to break up with me if I get vaccinated. He believes that the vaccines are “Signs of the Beast,” “666,” etc.

I don’t know what to do. I really love him. We’ve been together for ages. But his beliefs just don’t make sense to me.


Dear Ana,

Thank you for your email.

You have been very fortunate these last ten years to have found a partner (let’s call him Mark) with almost the same interests. Presumably over this
time, you have also developed a framework for thrashing out and resolving disagreements in a civilized way. However, your unresolved areas of significant divergence – religion and opposition to vaccination – do not
always lend themselves to rational and dispassionate discussion because they are belief based and not science based.

Regarding your differing religions it seems that there has been no discussion at all, just a declaration by Mark that you have to convert upon marriage. Apparently, the other two options – he converts or the status quo is maintained – were summarily discarded. You do not say how you would react were marriage to become the catalyst for a decision on this score.

However, his intransigent position on the subject must be a red flag, even if you yourself have a very relaxed attitude to religion, not least because it may well presage further intransigence on his part on other subjects that you hold closer to your heart.

As for vaccination, the issue here is how to find a basis for negotiating a resolution between two opposing views that do not lend themselves to reasoned debate.

You may have reached your decision to accept vaccination after examination of the facts, or because most people you know are doing so (or some other process). Mark has reached his on the basis of some spiritual belief, supported by a religious text taken from a book 2000 years old and replete with contradictory quotations on a vast array of issues. There are endless internet posts on this subject and I refer to just one as an example.

In the end, it is probably a question of whether your strength of feeling about religion and/or vaccination trumps your feelings for Mark. Many would say that a mere mortal should not come between you and your god or your health. Others would say you should follow your heart. I would recommend you ask yourself whether you want a future with such an intransigent partner.

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear Ana,

Thank you very much for your letter.

I agree with Mr Baer that your Mark has two deal breakers (for starters). They are red flags and represent an intransigence that will affect your future. True, you have already given him 10 years of your life, but that is as nothing when compared to how much more (in time, in stress levels) you will waste if you marry him.

I say this because I disagree with Mr Baer when he suggests that what you choose will merely be a matter of comparing if your strength of feelings for Mark trumps how you feel about his deal breakers.

For an intelligent woman, the nature of his 2nd deal breaker, to be vaccinated or not, matters tremendously. The science journal Vaccine discovered no association between educational levels, IQ and vaccine skepticism.

However, there is a strong association between people high in vaccine skepticism and people who overestimate the likelihood of negative events, particularly those that are rare. These overestimations carry over through all kinds of negative events — not just those related to vaccines.

For example, vaccine skeptics were less accurate in their estimations of how frequently causes of death not just from vaccines but from cancers, animal bites and childbirth to fireworks, flooding and car accidents occur.

Specifically, they found that higher vaccine skepticism was associated with an overestimation of rare events. Thus, they were less accurate in their estimations of mortality-related events and overestimated negative events more than neutral or positive events.

If vaccine skeptics probably don’t have the best understanding of how likely or probable different events are, it’s also likely they are more easily swayed by anecdotal horror stories.

That is probably because vaccine skeptics actually process information differently than people lower in vaccine skepticism. This further suggests that there are basic cognitive or affective variables that influence vaccine skepticism.

Mark is not merely vaccine skeptic, he is outrightly and beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt-ly vaccine negative! Oh, Ana, isn’t it more likely that he has many more basic cognitive and affective abilities that differ from yours? Can you imagine explaining to your children that vaccines are not really “the mark of the beast?” Can you even attempt such an explanation if intransigent Bob is your husband?

Frankly, I would drop Mark like a hot potato. For me, any child I had would be far too important to risk her/his being more easily swayed by anecdotal evidence. But you are not asking for my opinion but for a paradigm which influences any decision you make.

I hope you are happy with what we have both shared.

Good luck, no matter what decision you may make (waiting is, after all, also a decision!),

MG Holmes


Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.