- If you’ve been vocal about your hesitation to get the COVID-19 vaccines but now feel differently, it’s OK to change your mind.
- Relying on new data and information regarding the virus and vaccines is a valid reason to get vaccinated.
- Changing your mind doesn’t make you a hypocrite, but rather a person willing to evolve.
Everyone changes their mind about things they once felt passionate about.
And shifts around health and wellness are no different — meat eaters become vegetarian, couch potatoes complete marathons, and yes, those who may have been hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine in the past decide to get the shot.
But for some people who changed their minds about the vaccine, letting others know about their decision isn’t always easy.
So was the case for Emily Richards in Arkansas. She was initially hesitant to get the vaccine because she wanted to wait for more medical studies about the COVID-19 virus and the vaccines.
“I wanted more time and more information. I am not in a high-risk group, so I was not sure getting the vaccine would be in my best interest versus letting natural immunity handle the virus,” she told Healthline.
However, after witnessing several people she considers healthy contract the virus and experience lingering symptoms — such as loss of taste and smell, fatigue, and cough — she began to reevaluate.
This, coupled with the numerous studies that followed, which showed the vaccine was effective and safe after millions of people had gotten it, changed her mind. She got the shot in May 2021.
“I was vocal about my hesitation but chose to have the most in-depth conversations and discuss my concerns with educated medical professionals, including my own physician,” Richards said.
“I live in a state that feels very different about the vaccine and [leans toward relying on] personal responsibility [in] preventing the spread of COVID,” she added. “I did not post on social media or advertise that I received the vaccine.”
While changing your mind can make you feel uncomfortable with a decision that goes against your original worldview, doing so can also come with a feeling of making an evolved and informed decision, says Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.
This is how Amy Koenig, 42, in Illinois feels about her change of mind.
As a person who prides herself on being fit, eating healthily, and turning to natural remedies for minor illnesses, aches and pains, she didn’t believe her or her family was at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
“As teachers, administrators, and nurses headed back to school, there was a lot of information coming my way from friends and family,” Koenig told Healthline. “A woman my age who I would consider very fit with no known medical conditions was hospitalized for a few days and was given oxygen.”
Although the woman recovered, Koenig’s confidence about staying safe from the virus, especially the Delta variant, waned.
“I had childhood asthma, and while I don’t suffer from it now, my lungs will always have this memory, I’m told. So if I do get sick, and it does go to my lungs, I could struggle more than someone without this ‘lung memory,’” she said. “[If] the Delta variant was so much more contagious and more likely to affect my kids, could I be in a situation where I was not able to properly take care of them?”
Koenig got vaccinated in August 2021.
She says she doesn’t worry about what people think about her decision. She believes her choice means that she is curious, skeptical, analytical, patient, a life-long learner, conscientious, and confident.
“I’m proud of that,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful to change your mind and empowering to know that you had a choice to make, you used all of the information you had to make it, and as new information is gathered, you are able to reassess and make a change if necessary.”
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says it’s human nature to be skeptical and ask questions.
“If patients evoke any resistance or skepticism, the first thing I do is acknowledge the validity of their skepticism… so they feel like I heard them… Then I ask them to tell me what concerns they have about the vaccine… and I provide information and offer more information when they are ready,” Schaffner told Healthline.
Serani says that changing your mind because you’ve read additional data or heard advice from experts is a common experience and that people often believe they may initially know more about a subject than they do. However, upcon learning more, they realize they don’t have all the information they need to make an informed decision.
This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
“This psychological experience is when you think you have knowledge to form competent decisions about things, but that you really don’t have this ability. Essentially, people talking about vaccines, contagion, the science behind COVID-19, etc., are locked in a misperception that they have higher-than-actual competency about these issues. When they simply don’t,” said Serani.
When people become aware of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, they might consider that experts are more knowledgeable than them and turn to science and research to help guide them in health decision making, she said.
“I’ve often said, ‘I’m going to trust that the infectious disease specialists know more than I do about vaccines.’ I can change my mind and feel comfortable saying, ‘Maybe the decades these experts have spent in medical schools, hospitals, laboratories, clinical fieldwork, and research facilities is more valuable in leading healthcare than my few hours of armchair internet surfing,’” Serani said.
Schaffner says that while data can influence people’s choices to get the vaccine, people who are hesitant often need to feel comfortable with their decision.
“Information is key. You need it. It’s foundational, but [psychologists] also tell us that information is often not sufficient to change behavior. You have to change not only how people think about stuff, but how they feel,” Schaffner said.
He says that scientists, doctors, and researchers have come forward with a lot of information proving the efficacy and safety of the vaccines, but he believes they need to improve on communication that allows people to feel better about getting the vaccine.
“A lot of your attitude is influenced by your social group. If you’re a young person and the crowd you hang out with smokes, you may smoke even though you can go into school and answer a biology test with great assurance that smoking is bad for your body and can cause lung cancer. But socially, you want to be part of the group, so you smoke,” he said.
If you are thinking about getting the vaccine and this decision differs from that of your social group, Schaffner says a way to save face is to focus on new information.
“Delta changed everything. That gives people an intellectually coherent and an emotionally safe way to use an off-ramp,” he said.
He suggests saying something like: “I’m still a firm believer in individual decision making and personal liberty, but now things have changed, so I think I’ll change my mind, exercise my individual decision making, and get the vaccine.”
“You don’t have to change your basic philosophy or who you are. Now life has changed, and so you are going to change,” Schaffner said.
If pride and fear of what others might think of you getting vaccinated is keeping you from getting the vaccine, she says to keep in mind that it’s a positive character trait to be able to say, “I was wrong” or “Oh, I’ve changed my mind” or “You know, I think this might be better for me.”
“Some very smart and educated people can get stuck in their world beliefs and can’t integrate new information in their old ways of thinking. This rigid cognitive processing style can make them not want to align with what is being touted as a ‘best practice’ for health,” Serani said.
However, she adds that evolving as a human being requires you to check in with your biases and belief systems often.
“The key is to place your own beliefs on hold while inviting other ways of thinking in,” said Serani.
The name of Emily Richards has been changed to protect her identity.