COVID-19 is a terrible, frightening disease. But we now have a great tool for combatting COVID: vaccines. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are all extremely effective at preventing severe infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID. This remains true even with the current variants of COVID.
Unfortunately, for some people, vaccines can feel frightening too. They may worry about vaccine side effects or long-term health problems due to information they come across on social media or unreliable websites. Talking about the vaccine with family and friends is a powerful way to help others learn about the vaccine and become more comfortable with the idea of getting vaccinated.
Here’s how you can help family and friends who have questions or concerns about COVID-19 vaccines.
Listen to their concerns and show empathy
It’s completely normal for people to have questions about a vaccine, especially one that’s relatively new. Plus, there’s so much misinformation about COVID vaccines that it’s understandable that some people are confused, uncertain, or suspicious about getting the shot.
Before you can talk to someone about the benefits of the vaccine, you have to understand what they are worried about — without making them feel judged. Listen thoughtfully to their responses when you ask how they feel about the vaccine. Let them know that you’re listening to them and that their emotions are valid. For instance, you might say, “You mentioned feeling pressured to get vaccinated before you understand the possible side effects. That must feel overwhelming and frustrating.”
Ask them open-ended questions about the vaccine
Asking yes-or-no questions often leads to dead ends in conversations. Instead, ask questions that start with “How,” “Why,” or “What happened.” Ask them what their biggest concerns about the vaccine are and where they learned about those issues. Ask them how they felt when they learned that information and what they did after hearing it.
Sometimes asking “Why” can feel like an attack, so only use “Why” questions if it’s clear that you’re trying to understand their perspective and concerns. Avoid any judgmental comments and do not dismiss their concerns as “silly” or “minor.”
Ask if you can share information with them
After you have learned what their biggest concerns are, you have the opportunity to provide them with information that can help combat those concerns. However, they may not be ready to receive that information yet, especially if they feel vulnerable after sharing what worries them.
Ask them if it’s OK if you share some information with them related to what they described. If they say yes, they will be more receptive to the information. If they say no, respect their decision and let them know you are available to share it later if they change their mind. It’s important that they do not feel pushed or pressured.
If they agree to receive information from you, provide them with answers and data from reputable sources that they are likely to trust. That could include the CDC, the local health department website, or a doctor or hospital website. If you don’t know the answers to specific questions they have, offer to help look for them.
Help them figure out why they might want to get the vaccine
Many people have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 because it will protect them from severe illness or hospitalization. Others, however, are not as worried about their own health. Perhaps they are young and healthy but want the vaccine to avoid passing the infection on to others. Every person who chooses to get the vaccine must have a reason they believe in. Help your friend or family member find their reason.
For some, it might be the ability to safely do more activities in public, like going to the movies or eating in a restaurant. Others might want to visit elderly family members without worrying about infecting them.
Others might want to return to more typical work or school activities. Still others might feel it’s the socially responsible thing to do. Whatever the reason may be, helping them articulate why getting vaccinated may be important to them will help motivate them to actually get the vaccine.
Help them get vaccinated
If they decide to get the vaccine, help them do so. Assist them in finding a local provider using Vaccines.gov and make an appointment. Offer to drive them to the vaccine site or babysit for them if that will make it easier for them to get vaccinated.
You might also offer to be available in the days after they get vaccinated in case they experience fatigue or other side effects. For people who are most worried about side effects, knowing that someone will be there to help them or their family could be the extra incentive they need.