COVID-19, Vaccines

How To Have a Conversation about the COVID Vaccine

October 18, 2021

by Guest Contributor

By Erika Henderson, CCIH Communications and Advocacy Intern

A female college student in a Pepperdine tshirt
Erika Henderson, CCIH Intern

For over 200 years, vaccines have been used to protect against viruses. When COVID-19 hit, producing a vaccine was the clear course of action. The vaccine was successfully developed, but not without controversy. In addition to the evidence-based information that is available, there is a large amount of misinformation and rumors on social media, and from other sources.

As a result, people are very divided as to whether or not the vaccine is safe, making it a sensitive topic to discuss with friends and family. Here are some suggested guidelines for having a conversation about the vaccine.

Do Not Dismiss Their Concerns

The COVID-19 vaccines are new, so it is completely normal for people to be hesitant or concerned. Additionally, the amount of information and misinformation being shared about the COVID vaccine can seem overwhelming. It is important to make sure that people know their concerns are valid, or they may become more concerned. Additionally, dismissing one’s concerns could potentially tarnish your relationship with them.

If someone comes to you with concerns about the vaccine, you could start by saying something like “I totally understand where you are coming from. The vaccine is new, and it is difficult to tell what information about it is true.”

Ask Questions to Understand Their Perspective

In order to have a successful conversation with someone about the vaccine, it is important to understand their point of view. Knowing where their concerns come from will make it easier to help ease their mind about getting vaccinated. Additionally, asking questions will make people feel more comfortable discussing their concerns, because they know that you are not looking to diminish their worries.

Ask questions like “What have you heard about the vaccine so far?” and “Is there anything specific that worries you about getting vaccinated?” Avoid saying things like “Well that’s obviously fake information” or “I can’t believe you would be worried about that.” These statements will likely turn people away from wanting to discuss the vaccine.

Tanya Icaza, MAA is a professor of Anthropology at Montgomery College. She suggests, “As their friend, try to get to know what their past experiences with healthcare have been. These past experiences define our expectations for the level of trust we have in the medical profession and in science in general. Once you know where their distrust comes from, helping them find a practitioner or other resources they can trust may be your best course of action.”

Provide Good Quality, Up-to-Date Information

As mentioned before, the amount of information surrounding the vaccine can be very overwhelming. First, ask the person you are talking to for permission to show them information that you have found. You do not want to push information upon them, so asking their permission will keep the conversation from feeling forced. Also, encouraging people to consult local resources can be helpful. As long as local public health resources are evidence based, it can be more effective to refer someone to local sources if that person is having difficulty trusting international sources.

Utilize sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), who have good resources about how to talk about the vaccine, and find information that helps to answer their concerns. These organizations are excellent sources of information surrounding the COVID vaccine, and are also updated on a regular basis. Professor Icaza advises to “always be honest about the facts: what do we know, what is still being investigated, what are some of the differing interpretations of facts.”

Share Your Personal Experience with Vaccination

“Don’t feel bad if facts alone do not convince your friend or family member to change their mind about vaccination. We’ve seen that personal stories about your experiences with the vaccine or illness tend to be a more effective measure to convince someone to change their beliefs,” Professor Icaza says. This is especially true when it comes from a trusted friend or family member. Tell them about what getting vaccinated was like for you, and any side effects you did or did not experience. Also mention any concerns you had at first, and any benefits you have experienced since being vaccinated.

For example, you could say, “I was worried about getting the vaccine at first too, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I’m really glad I got vaccinated, because now I feel so much better about trying to get back to normal. I feel like I can enjoy myself more because getting COVID is less of a concern for me.” While there are breakthrough cases of COVID among vaccinated people, they tend to be much less severe. Expressing any personal concerns can make your experience relatable to theirs. Seeing the benefits that you are experiencing could ease someone’s worries, and encourage them to get the vaccine.

Be Respectful About Their Decision

It can be frustrating if the conversation does not end the way you planned. However, it is important to remain respectful of your friend or family member’s decision. Growing angry or resentful could possibly amplify their concerns even further, and harm your relationship with them.

One conversation may not be enough to alleviate someone’s hesitancy around getting vaccinated. However, it is likely to make some progress, and show that you are not there to judge, but to discuss and listen. Respecting their decision is important because it shows that they can come to you with any future questions, and they may rethink the idea of getting vaccinated in the future.

See more resources from CCIH about COVID-19 and Immunizations

About the Author: Erika Henderson is a sophomore at Pepperdine University. She is studying sports medicine and plans to pursue a career in the healthcare field.

Photo Credits in order of appearance: Centers for Disease Control from Unsplash; Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash; and Ronstick from Pixabay

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