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An older couple and their daughter having a conversation. The parents are listening

How to talk to a loved one who’s hesitant to get the COVID vaccine

Once COVID-19 vaccinations became widely available, you may have found yourself frustrated by a friend or loved one’s reluctance to get the shots. What can you do about it, especially when someone’s hesitation impacts your life?

“We want to make sure we’re all doing our part to protect other people and to end this pandemic,” says Bronwen Garner, M.D., chair of Piedmont’s Infectious Disease Clinical Governing Council. But she understands how difficult those conversations can be. “I try to approach it from a very curious standpoint, as someone who is trying to understand,” she says. “I try asking, ‘what are your personal barriers?’”

A safe approach

There are multiple reasons why people might be hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which include religious and community beliefs and personal health concerns. “Try to open up the conversation,” says Dr. Garner. Even if you can’t speak to the person’s health concerns, you can suggest they speak to their doctor or talk to their religious leaders to see if they are getting the right messages. For example, someone might think their religion prohibits them from being vaccinated, but their local pastors or other clergy may be able to put their minds at ease.

Even if you can’t speak to that person’s individual beliefs or concerns from your own personal standpoint, just by having the conversation, you may be planting the seed. The key is to be nonjudgmental, Dr. Garner says. She suggests trying to break down their barriers by communicating the science and debunking the myths.

Facts over emotion

With every news outlet offering an opinion, debunking the myths and understanding the science can be difficult for some people, but if you hear misinformation, here are two good neutral sources for guiding them in the right direction:

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, which may be harder to navigate but has good basic information on a broad reading level.
  • The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center is a well-organized site with a lot of good and easily digestible information.

Dr. Garner advises “approaching it as a conversation, without the goal of changing the other person’s mind.” She adds, “We’re so polarized right now, it’s easy to be dismissive on both sides. But we can come together behind the facts and support each other in that manner.”

After addressing concerns with an open mind and facts, you can steer the conversation from “why not” to the important reasons that matter to them—their “why.” You may not understand their why, and you may not change their minds, but just talking about the situation can be the start of a change—and maybe, an end to your frustration.

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