What is the meaning of 'unjabbed' in covid-related conversations?

Bruno Cooke December 17, 2021
What is the meaning of 'unjabbed' in covid-related conversations?


The “unjabbed” are making headlines left, right and centre – in The Guardian, where “millions of unjabbed” are a “key concern”, and in Republic World, which reports that the potentially “unjabbed” grand slam champion Novak Djokovic may have to miss the Australian Open. But nowhere is a clear definition of what the meaning of “unjabbed” actually is. So, what is it?

What is the meaning of ‘unjabbed’?

“Unjabbed” is the negative version of “jabbed”, which is the past participle of the verb “to jab”. 

While this may be obvious to English speakers based in the UK – there is a certain Britishness to the word “jab” in the context of covid-19 vaccinations – its meaning may be more elusive to American anglophones. 

In conversations about covid-19 and vaccinations, “the jab” is synonymous with a dose of the vaccine – their meanings are the same. 

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Close up portrait of beautiful young woman wearing mask getting vaccinated.

If you get “jabbed”, you receive a dose – it doesn’t matter if it’s Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca.

Similarly, if you’re “double jabbed”, you’re double vaccinated: you’ve received two doses of the vaccine. This doesn’t apply in the same way to recipients of the Dutch Janssen jab, which is a single-dose vaccine.

So if you’re ‘unjabbed’, you haven’t received any doses of the covid-19 vaccine

Most conversations about vaccinations that have taken place in 2020 and 2021 have been about vaccinations against covid-19.

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By and large, therefore, headlines that refer to “the unjabbed” are about people who have not been vaccinated against covid-19. Likewise, tweets that refer to “the jab”, “the jabbed” and “the unjabbed” are talking about covid-19 vaccines.

Currently, in the UK, 81.5% of over-12s have had both doses of one of the approved covid-19 vaccines. 

However, less than half of those aged 12-15 have had the jab. Meanwhile, in some local authority areas in England, over 30% remain “unjabbed”. This is part of the reason that these conversations remain ongoing.

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Why use ‘jabbed’ and ‘unjabbed’ instead of vaccinated and unvaccinated?

The words “unjabbed” and “unvaccinated” are basically interchangeable. 

Sometimes, newspapers (and Twitter users) prefer short, snappy words over more formal language – especially in headlines. Tabloid newspapers are especially likely to use a three-letter word (“jab”) over a seven-letter one (“vaccine”).

Similarly, politicians may prefer to use monosyllabic words, as they can be more punchy. As The Guardian explains, “super-short sentences emphasise certainty and determination”. The same can be true of shorter words.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.