Have a loved one who doesn't want to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Here's how to talk to them.
Vaccine hesitancy has substantially declined in the U.S. since the federal government first began vaccine rollout last year, but it hasn’t disappeared.
One in 5 Americans continue to say they’re not at all likely to get the vaccine, a figure that has barely budged since the beginning of 2021, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll in April.
Some health experts also fear that last week's recommendation to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may contribute to hesitancy. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the pause because of a combination of blood clots and low platelet counts reported in fewer than 10 people who got the vaccine.
While Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious diseases expert, said the pause probably will lift Friday, the news may have caused renewed friction between those who are vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated and others who are hesitant.
Here’s how to talk to your loved ones about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Have an open conversation: Ask about their fears, don't be dismissive
There are many reasons why a loved one may be hesitant about getting vaccinated against COVID-19, and it’s important to create an open space for them to express those reasons, said Rebecca Ortiz, assistant professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
“People have these concerns about side effects and safety, and it's perfectly normal to have those concerns,” she said. “If we build a space where we can have conversations … the resistant people are more willing to hear from their loved ones.”
It’s also important to not be outright dismissive of feelings or misinformation, said Dr. Georgia Gaveras, chief psychiatrist and co-founder at Talkiatry, a mental health provider.
Viral misinformation on social media has influenced the public’s trust in vaccines, especially among vulnerable communities, experts say. If a loved one cites a questionable source that may be spreading vaccine-related falsehoods, vet the source together, Gaveras said.
“If somebody is bringing in a source, look at it, read it, don’t dismiss it at face value and discuss it in a meaningful way,” she said.
Focus on the feelings over the facts
Though misinformation may contribute to vaccine hesitancy, experts say it’s not the main driver.
“A lot of concerns are not based in facts, they’re based in emotions and ‘this doesn’t feel right to me,’” Ortiz said. “If you get those feelings out and can really talk about them, it lessens their power because you start to articulate out loud.”
Government agencies update pandemic guidelines based on what scientists learn about the coronavirus each day. New research has driven new guidance, but some people interpret that as inconsistent messaging and distrust the institutions behind it.
Instead of focusing the conversation on science-based data, talk about feelings. Are they scared of vaccine side effects? Are they worried about the novelty? Do they fear possible long-term effects?
“If Fauci can’t convince them, you’re not going to,” Gaveras said. “It’s more of an emotional thing over anything else. Anxiety is the driving factor, the fear of the unknown.”
Normalize the COVID-19 vaccine
While COVID-19 is new to the world, the technologies used by vaccine developers to combat the disease are well-known.
Scientists began creating viral vector vaccines, such as the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, in the 1970s, according to the CDC. Some vaccines recently used for Ebola outbreaks have used this technology, and a number of studies have focused on viral vector vaccines for other infectious disease such as Zika, flu and HIV.
And while the mRNA vaccines, such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are newer technology, the CDC says researchers have been studying mRNA vaccines for decades for their potential to combat diseases.
Maya Clark-Cutaia, nurse practitioner and assistant professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, says another way to help persuade your loved one to get vaccinated is by normalizing the COVID-19 vaccines.
“The shingles vaccine, the pneumococcal vaccine, the HPV vaccine … all these vaccines at one point were the COVID vaccine. They were new and nobody wanted to do it,” she said. “This has to become our new normal.”
The speed at which the vaccines were developed may also be scary, but Clark-Cutaia tells her loved ones technological advancements outside health care happen swiftly as well.
“We want this to happen,” she said. “We want to make changes in health care because it results in better outcomes for us and our communities.”
Explain why you’re getting vaccinated
There are many reasons why the scientific community says it’s important to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but Ortiz says peopleare more likely to be convinced if they hear personal reasons.
“It’s going to be the loved ones encouraging them, not pressuring or bullying them but to encourage and explain why they’re getting vaccinated,” she said.
The reasons may include reuniting with other vaccinated friends and family, protecting a vulnerable loved one at risk for severe disease or traveling with low risk of infection.
“My apprehension was outweighed by the fact that my children are trapped in the house and my son has been doing kindergarten virtually,” Clark-Cutaia said. “I take care of elderly patients every day and immunocompromised patients every day and couldn’t take the risk of making them sick.”
Gaveras, who received the vaccine in December, tells her friends and family who may be hesitant that getting vaccinated is “as close as you’ll feel to being a superhero.”
Explain why it's important to you that your loved one gets vaccinated
Peoplewill listen only if they understand the conversation is coming from a place of love, Gaveras said, and not for the sake of arguing ideological differences.
Tell your loved one the main reason you want them to get vaccinated: You’re worried about their health and want them to be protected.
“It’s about getting the vaccine or getting COVID, it’s not about getting the vaccine or not,” Gaveras said. “I know you're worried about the vaccine, I’m worried about you.”
Give them time to come around
It’s unlikely someone will immediately change their mind after a conversation about the vaccine, Ortiz said.
“For over a year, we’ve been told what to do,” she said. “We have to allow for people to become comfortable and think through some of the reasons why they’re resistant.”
It’s also important to be supportive and present once a loved one becomes more open to the idea of getting vaccinated, Gaveras said.
Be prepared to have multiple conversations and reassure them that you’ll love them no matter what they decide. She also suggests offering to accompany them to the vaccine appointment and “make a day of it.”
“It’s going to take a little time, we just have this sense of urgency because everyone wants to take their masks off and move on with their lives,” Gaveras said.
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.