Vaccines are estimated to save 2 to 3 million lives every year, according to Unicef. One of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, they are the most effective tools we have to fight many viral diseases. Thoroughly tested, they are only approved for massive distribution once they are guaranteed to be safe. But you probably know that already, as unfortunately the need to get everyone vaccinated has never been more pressing in recent times. Still, hoaxes and misinformation keep holding some people hostage. They may fear vaccination because of misconceptions and falsehoods. This hinders recovery and contributes to transmission, which may in turn cause new and worse variants to emerge. How can you talk the undecided into getting vaccinated?
The following text is based on information by UNICEF and the CDC. However, it does not constitute any form of medical advice, and you should not rely on it as a substitute for actual medical guidance from your healthcare provider. Always follow official health guidelines and talk to your doctor if you have any questions or are hesitant about getting vaccines.
How to discuss the importance of getting vaccinated
At this point, having a conversation with your relatives or friends about vaccination is hardly a new experience. You may have already tried to convince them about the importance of getting the jab, to no avail. Being the number one global health priority, many health agencies provide different resources on how to navigate such a conversation. According to Dr. Saad Omer, Director at the Yale Institute for Global Health, there are some strategies that can help you persuade those around you. They are all about listening, informing and reassuring. We list some of them below:
Assume they want to get vaccinated. Instead of preparing for confrontation as soon as you start to talk, simply invite those around you to get vaccinated. This is called presumptive communication, the expert explains, and has proven effective in these situations.
Use empathy: At this point, some people may have made up their minds about vaccination and avoid the conversation altogether, or be very vocal about their reasons. But according to Dr. Omer, it is important to listen and make them feel heard. Sympathising with their needs can be a good starting point. They may be tired of having to isolate, or express uncertainty about the future, concerns that show how vaccines help. But don’t just talk about vaccines, look at the bigger picture instead. You may bond over how hard the situation has been, apart from the aspects directly related to health. Once the conversation returns to vaccines, the consequences of living without them may be even clearer. The prospect of going back to normal may seem more enticing and attainable, then.
Let them speak: To make your loved ones feel that they are heard, it’s important to patiently wait and listen to what they may have to say, resisting the urge to correct them. Do not reinforce any misconceptions, but do listen and empathise with their feelings without rushing a conclusion.
Empowering: Feelings of uncertainty and powerlessness can be hard to overcome, but you should let your loved ones know that things can get better and they do have a say in their personal situation. They can contribute by getting vaccinated. Doing so will make a big difference.
Don’t get dragged into the falsehoods: Dr. Omer advises against focusing on misconceptions directly. You may want to address specific aspects, but you risk discovering that there will always be more myths. This can also be counter-productive if the conversation ends up being more memorable for the myths, rather than facts. If you have to address myths or inaccuracies, the expert recommends a specific order: present the facts (vaccines have proven effective and extremely safe). Then anticipate any potential myths by warning about existing hoaxes and misinformation, enunciate the one you want to address, and debunk it with facts, showing why it is untrue.
Making things easier
Discussing vaccines with people who simply oppose them can be draining, but you should not get discouraged. Convincing them can take a long time and it is unlikely that you convince them in just one exchange.
The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also list some tips to handle these conversations. For example, if you are faced with baseless claims or unfounded myths, you may want to share accurate information from trusted sources. The CDC recommend asking for permission beforehand so it doesn’t feel like you are imposing. If they agree, direct them to accurate information from trusted sources like health agencies, your local health department website or encourage them to talk to people they trust, like pharmacists, doctors or nurses.
Even if we have a common goal, people decide to get the vaccines for different reasons, the CDC say. Some do it to protect their loved ones or ease any uncertainty, others do it because they want to get back to normal or be able to work. Listening is also important because it lets you identify these motivations, which may or may not align with yours. Once they share their reasons, the case for getting vaccinated will be easier.
Finally, if you succeed in convincing those around you and they seem willing to get vaccinated, try to get a commitment form them and make things easier by offering to make an appointment, go with them to the location or help with anything while they are there. For example, you can babysit their kids or help with transportation.