- If you’re in a relationship with a partner who is hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, experts say the way you talk with them about it can make a big difference.
- They also say it’s best to avoid arguing or shaming them.
- Instead, experts suggest listening to their concerns, sharing data and medical advice from trusted sources, and assuring them of your love and concern for them.
Elizabeth Jones didn’t tell her husband she was getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.
“My husband does not believe the vaccine is safe since it’s not FDA-approved. He doesn’t like injections of any kind. He doesn’t do the flu shot either,” Jones told Healthline.
She is worried about him because his line of work requires him to be in people’s houses all day.
“He smokes as well, so he’s at higher risk. Overall, my husband is not healthy,” Jones said. “He doesn’t eat well or work out. He won’t get a vaccination, but he will drink Mountain Dew daily, and smoke, and eat greasy food and crap with dyes.”
Her husband now knows that Jones received both doses of the vaccination, and he supports her decision. The couple agrees not to vaccinate their three teenage children.
While Jones hesitated to get vaccinated because she believes she is healthy and would recover from COVID-19, she ultimately felt a responsibility to her family.
“I know COVID can scar your brain and lungs, so I took that into play for me, and honestly, I feel one parent has to stay healthy in a relationship and it won’t be my husband,” she said.
For Maria Osman, her husband, Dan, is the one worrying.
“My husband is vaccinated and for quite some time, if not still, he has been worried about me and the highly contagious delta variant,” Osman told Healthline.
Because her husband has a heart condition, Osman said she worried about him getting the vaccine due to her concern about potential effects on his heart.
“We have open conversations about it, agree to disagree on some things, and really support and respect each other in our decision,” said Osman.
Like Jones and Osman, many people have found they do not share the same views about the COVID-19 vaccine as their partner, which can put additional stress on a relationship.
While it can be particularly frustrating for people with a partner who is hesitant about getting vaccinated, medical experts say there are ways you can approach the topic that are more helpful than others and may give them a reason to reconsider.
Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, regional clinical director at Carbon Health, said because people are hesitant to get vaccinated for various reasons, being respectful and nonjudgmental with your partner will go a long way during your conversations.
“Instead of shaming or combating with facts, focus on listening, understand their hesitations, and personalize the conversation to their specific concerns,” said Curry-Winchell.
“Repeat their concerns out loud to show empathy, compassion, and acknowledge their hesitations are legitimate and we are living through challenging times,” Curry-Winchell told Healthline.
Connecting on an emotional level and sharing recent stories of people who chose not to get vaccinated and are expressing public regret as they lay in the hospital or remain severely ill, can humanize the issue.
Sharing stories of a spouse grieving over the loss of their unvaccinated spouse can also make an impact.
“But most importantly, focus on your shared future and express unconditional love and concern for their safety, and the safety of the unvaccinated children or the elderly, vulnerable family in your shared world,” said Curry-Winchell.
“By focusing on the future of your family, you may break through the walls that evidence-based data could not overcome,” Curry-Winchell said.
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said when couples come to him who differ on getting the vaccine, he welcomes questions from the person who is hesitant.
“First of all, I tell my patients that hesitancy, skepticism, reluctance is really pretty common in terms of the human condition and that puts many people at ease. Then I always ask, ‘What’s your particular concern?’” he told Healthline.
“While I can’t always persuade people, there is a reasonable response to every issue I’ve heard, unless you’re a person who is extremely stubborn,” Schaffner said.
Some common concerns he hears and how he responds include the following:
As soon as someone brings up political reasons for the vaccination, he shuts that reasoning down.
“The virus doesn’t give a rat’s who you vote for, or even if you voted at all. I tell patients, ‘Let’s keep the politics out of this,’” Schaffner said.
When his patients bring up the argument that it’s their personal choice or individual decision to get the vaccine or not, he tells them they’re half right.
“Obviously, it’s your choice and decision, and no one is making you get vaccinated at this point, but this is a public health issue,” said Schaffner.
“If you want to eat three cheeseburgers and drink a big milkshake for lunch, that’s your business. It has to do with you and the arteries to your heart. It doesn’t bother anyone else except indirectly. But this is a contagious virus and you could put other people at risk,” he said.
He explains that you could develop COVID-19 and have no symptoms, or very mild symptoms, and still put other family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors at risk by passing the virus that causes COVID-19 onto them.
It’s still experimental
When people express concern that the vaccine is still too new, Schaffner tells them that was a reasonable thought about 8 months ago. He asks them to put this into perspective.
“We’ve given about 360 million doses in the United States alone, and that’s a greater experiment in a year with this vaccine than any other vaccine and any other drug the FDA has ever licensed,” he said.
As far as concerns about unknown side effects, he explains that of the about 25 standard vaccines currently given during infancy, childhood, and adulthood none have long-term effects that show up a year or more after being administered.
“That does not exist. Adverse effects, if they’re going to occur, occur within the first 3 or 4 months — most within the first 2 months. We’re way beyond that with the COVID vaccines,” said Schaffner.
He adds that in the minds of many people making the decision not to be vaccinated, they may not see their choices as an acceptance of the risk of developing COVID-19.
“Psychologists have taught us, and I’ve learned again in this situation, that facts alone are necessary, but it’s unusual for facts alone to help people make a decision,” he said.
“You have to change their attitude or how they feel about something. I try to make people feel comfortable and reassured that this is a good thing to do,” said Schaffner.
After you have listened to your partner’s hesitations, sharing how this situation is similar to a partner who smokes or refuses medication for a chronic condition, could give them perspective.
Try to explain how their choice does not just impact their individual health, but the lives of the people they care most about.
“When we commit to building a home and a shared life with our spouse/partners, we agree to providing safety and security,” said Curry-Winchell.
“Try appealing to their love for you, your children, and your extended family, and the love you feel for them in return. Appeal to their emotions by describing a future together where their vaccine hesitancy, smoking, or decline in health causes problems for them and your children,” she said.
The names of Elizabeth Jones and Maria Osman have been changed to protect their identities.