How To Talk To Someone Who Is Vaccine Hesitant

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COVID-19 vaccinations are in full swing here in Michigan and around the country. And while many people can’t wait to get a vaccine appointment, others aren’t so sure they want to get vaccinated at all.

“If you have friends and family who are hesitant to get vaccinated, the best thing you can do is engage them in a genuine, respectful conversation,” says Aimee Richardson, a health coach with Henry Ford Health System. “There’s a technique we use called motivational interviewing. It’s a way to make sure you move the conversation forward, preventing roadblocks that might come up, such as someone becoming defensive. Once someone feels defensive or judged, they might not feel safe bringing this topic up with you again.”

You shouldn’t approach the conversation as an expert or someone who’s trying to change their mind, Richardson explains. You should view this conversation as partnering with them in making this decision and building their confidence about the vaccines. You’re simply expressing interest and curiosity.

Here, Richardson shares what you should—and shouldn’t do—when talking to someone who is hesitant to get vaccinated.

5 Things You Should Do

  1. Establish trust. It’s important to listen intently to what the person is saying and reflect upon what they said. “Simply repeating what they said is really valuable because it shows you’re listening and makes them feel heard,” says Richardson. “You also want to get to know their concerns so you can address them.”
  2. Change a close-ended question to an open-ended question. “You’ll gain a lot more information from the person if you ask them an open-ended instead of a closed-ended question,” says Richardson. “For example, if you say ‘do you want to get the vaccine or not,’ and they say ‘no,’ you don’t get a lot of information. But if you say, ‘tell me what you think about the vaccine,’ you’ll get more of the story.”
  3. Let them ask you why you’ve chosen to get vaccinated. Tell them what helped you make the decision to get vaccinated. If you looked up reputable information about the vaccine, tell them. You can also share where you read that information and why that source is reliable.
  4. Talk about the positive things that will come from getting vaccinated. “Asking what we call appreciative or positive questions can be helpful as well,” says Richardson. “Ask them what their life might be like after they’re fully vaccinated. Ask them what positive outcomes could come from getting vaccinated.”
  5. End the conversation on a respectful note. At the end of the conversation, if they say they aren’t getting vaccinated, it’s important to tell them you respect their decision. “You don’t want to put a wall up so that they’ll never talk to you about this again,” says Richardson. “You want them to know you’ll be there, if and when they’re ready to discuss it again. The goal of the conversation isn’t to try to change their mind.”

And 4 Things You Shouldn’t Do

  1. Avoid introducing anything new that might cause them to become more hesitant. “If someone is concerned the vaccines came out too quickly, don’t pile on additional reasons that would make them even more hesitant to get vaccinated,” Richardson says. “That’s just introducing more things for them to worry about.”
  2. Avoid being judgmental. Know that people have valid reasons for wanting to protect themselves. “It’s healthy to be a little concerned before you have the facts,” says Richardson. “And know that they might have a different set of experiences that's making them hesitant to get vaccinated.”
  3. Don’t try to debate or win an argument. This conversation is about creating an open, safe space for someone to share their fears, thoughts and feelings. No one has to win, and you don’t always need a counter argument. It shouldn’t be a combative conversation.
  4. Don’t accuse or make someone feel less than. If someone isn’t getting vaccinated because of something they read on a website that isn’t reputable, don’t shame them. “Ask where they heard this information and have them share it with you,” Richardson says. “Show them how it was spun a certain way, or help them see why it might not be a good source. Then you can explain why sites like the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and healthcare systems might be a better place to get the vaccine facts.”
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Visit henryford.com/vaccine for answers to frequently asked COVID-19 vaccine questions.

Aimee Richardson, MCHES, CHWC, NCTTP, leads the health coaching program at Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She is an experienced health educator and certified tobacco treatment specialist.

Categories: FeelWell