There are currently more than 20 vaccines available to help prevent viral and bacterial illnesses. It is a wonder of modern medicine that people could have only dreamed of a century or two ago, when such illnesses routinely led to the premature death or long-term disability of both children and adults.
However, for some people, vaccines can feel frightening. They may worry about vaccine side effects or long-term health problems due to information they come across on social media or unreliable websites, or they may worry that their pediatrician is recommending “too many” vaccines at once for their child. Talking about vaccines with family and friends is a powerful way to help others become more comfortable with the idea of getting vaccinated.
Here is how you can help family and friends who have questions or concerns about vaccines.
Listen to their concerns and show empathy
It is completely normal for people to have questions about vaccines. This is particularly true if the vaccine is a relatively new one (like the vaccines for COVID-19 or RSV) or if the vaccines are part of a seemingly large set of vaccines that infants and toddlers routinely receive. Plus, there is so much misinformation about vaccines—especially on social media—that it is understandable for some people to feel confused, uncertain, or suspicious about getting themselves (or their children) vaccinated.
Before you can talk to someone about the benefits of vaccines, 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 vaccines. Let them know that you are 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 use only “Why” questions if it is clear that you are trying to understand their perspectives 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 yet be ready to receive that information, especially if they feel vulnerable after sharing what worries them.
Ask them if it is okay if you share some information with them related to their concerns. 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 is 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. This could include the CDC, the local health department website, a doctor, or a hospital website. If you do not know the answers to specific questions, offer to help look for them.
Help them figure out why they might want to get the vaccine
Many people get vaccinated 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 infections on to more vulnerable people around them.
For people with children, a vaccine can offer the peace of mind that comes from doing everything they can to protect their children’s health. Maybe they simply want to make sure their child does not miss out on school and other activities due to vaccine-preventable illnesses.
Every person who chooses to get vaccinated must have a reason that they believe. Help your friend or family member find their reason.
Whatever the reason may be, helping them articulate why getting vaccinated may be important to them will help motivate them to actually get vaccines.
Help them get vaccinated
If they decide to get vaccinated, help them do so. Let them know that many local pharmacies and clinics offer vaccines—even for kids. If they are not particularly tech-savvy, offer to make an online appointment for them. If they need a ride or a babysitter to get to a vaccine site, you can offer that, too—anything to 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 families could be the extra incentive they need.