- Many people continue to have concerns and doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines despite the overwhelming evidence that they are safe and effective.
- Experts say it’s important to talk with vaccine-hesitant friends and family about the need for everyone to get vaccinated so we can end the pandemic.
- However, experts say the way you speak with a vaccine-hesitant person makes a big difference in helping them make the decision to get vaccinated or not.
- Shaming or arguing does not work. Instead, listen to their concerns, give them the facts, and then let them decide.
COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the United States has been so quick and vast that most adults have been given the option to get at least one shot.
While many were eager to line up and do their part at slowing and hopefully ending the pandemic, others have been more reluctant.
Dr. Tom Kenyon, former director of the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and chief health officer at Project HOPE, said experts know from experience with other vaccination programs that reaching the first 50 percent of a population is the easier part.
“The second 50 percent gets tougher,” Kenyon told Healthline. “Here, we face more pockets of hesitancy and difficult-to-reach vulnerable populations, and that’s where the major health inequities come into play. The most important public message is: Get vaccinated as soon as you have access.”
Kenyon said getting vaccinated is a “tremendous service to yourself, your children, your co-workers, and your country.”
That’s because there are also some people who simply cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine, whether because they’re allergic to one or more ingredients in it or they have a compromised immune system.
Then there are those who simply don’t want to get vaccinated for one reason or another, from not believing the risks of COVID-19 or because they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of half-truths and misinformation that’s widely shared on social media.
It can seem cumbersome to try and convince each individual person that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective against serious illness and death.
But sometimes those conversations are worth having, especially if it’s with someone you love, or someone who has contact with someone you love.
Kenyon said there are essentially three groups that may differ from one community to the next: people who accept vaccines, people who are anti-vaccine, and people who are undecided.
With the current emphasis on the undecided, Kenyon said it’s vital to get factual information to everyone, but especially communities that don’t have as good of access to healthcare and information as other communities.
“Local health departments know their communities best and how to keep them informed,” Kenyon said. “In the U.S. in particular, communities are very frustrated with the level of confusion, long wait times, lack of information, conflicting information, appointment cancellations, and other faults related to not having a standardized national program. Improving vaccine logistics and providing a more reliable and convenient service will also help to address vaccine hesitancy.”
But how you speak with someone about the vaccines is just as vitally important in getting people to start looking at where they can get vaccinated.
“To be able to put your own perspective on hold, you must acknowledge that it is their right to choose whether they want to get vaccinated,” she told Healthline. “You may not agree with it or like it, but the choice is not yours to make.”
Sokolovic said it’s important not to “attack” people with facts or use the word “fear.” Rather, say “concerns” or “doubts.”
“If you mention fear, they may become defensive, especially if they struggle to show vulnerability,” she said. “While some people will openly talk about their fears, others will deny that they are afraid.”
So, without mentioning it, Sokolovic recommends trying to understand the nature and the source of the person’s fear, whether that is getting sick from the vaccine, being controlled or manipulated, or because of conspiracy theories, social pressure, or a lack of information.
That could include asking questions like, “What would make you more comfortable to get the vaccine? What would make you feel more confident? What information would you need to think of the vaccines differently? What has the potential to change your mind?”
Ann Marie Pettis, RN, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology, said the best way to address vaccine hesitancy, especially among healthcare workers, is to meet with them one-on-one to understand their concerns and hear their perspective.
“Shaming or arguing does not work,” she said. “It’s important to understand their objections.”
While carefully listening, Pettis said it’s also important to give people the facts and then let them decide.
“It’s been my experience that giving time to process the information often brings about the decision to be vaccinated,” she said. “I have come to realize that you can take away an objection but not an excuse.”
Kenyon said that despite the COVID-19 vaccines being remarkably effective and safe at bringing the pandemic under control, there’s been a lot of misinformation as the science unfolded.
“Misinformation in its various forms is an important driver of vaccine hesitancy and is a serious obstacle to saving lives, restoring our economy, and restoring life as we know it,” he said. “While we enjoy many individual freedoms in the U.S., including freedom of speech, we don’t have the freedom to harm others.”
Kenyon said people need to counter misinformation with specific facts.
One example is that because the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) use “genetic material,” some people believe they change a person’s DNA, which Kenyon said is “scientifically impossible.”
“Other more sinister conspiracy theories exist. We need to counter misinformation with the facts as we know them in the various ways of communication at our disposal,” he said. “Eventually the facts will prevail, and increased vaccination uptake will result.”