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5 Tips For Talking With Someone Who Is Vaccine Hesitant


Highlights | Encourage others to get a COVID-19 vaccine 

  • The Washington State Department of Health asks all healthcare professionals to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.  
  • Navigating these crucial conversations requires sensitivity, patience and facts.  
  • Consult these tips and talking points to help others gain vaccine confidence and overcome hesitancy. 

Nearly 3 million people in the state of Washington are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Each vaccinated person helps get us closer to population immunity — and a safe return to normal activities and routines. We’re proud of our work to promote and administer vaccines, but our job is not yet done. Despite efforts to educate the public on the benefits of the vaccine and increased vaccine availability, many people across the country and in our community are still reluctant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  

As healthcare professionals, it’s our obligation to provide the best information to help our patients, family members, friends and neighbors so that they can make an informed decision and overcome vaccine hesitancy or complacency.  

The Washington State Department of Health urges providers to talk with patients and build confidence in mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine  and encourage vaccinations.

Approaching these conversations requires sensitivity, patience and a reliance on facts. We want to encourage, not coerce. Here are five tips from the Department of Health you can use with patients, family and friends to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.  

1. Ask questions 

When talking to someone hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, acknowledge and address their concerns. Try to discern where their resistance originates. Are they vaccine hesitant or anti-vaccine? Be curious, ask questions and listen to uncover the root of their opposition.  

Asking questions shows you are interested in their perspective. You might ask:  

  • “What have you heard about the vaccine?” 
  • “I’d like to learn more about your perspective. Would you be willing to share your concerns about the vaccine with me?”  
  • “Where are you receiving your information about the vaccine? Would you be willing to share your sources?” 

2. Reserve judgment 

Those resistant to the COVID-19 vaccine may have strong feelings or unique circumstances that they perceive as a reason to avoid vaccination. They may be questioning the vaccine’s safety, have had a negative previous experience with the healthcare system or might be concerned about their medical risks.  

Consider each person’s unique viewpoint and approach the conversation with compassion and care. Judgment or shaming will quickly shut down the discussion. 

After listening and exploring the person’s concerns, you can create an opportunity to share your perspective by saying something along the lines of: 

  • “I also wondered/heard about [restate their concern]. Here’s what I learned after looking into it.” 
  • “I’ve heard others share similar concerns, so you aren’t alone in feeling that way. Would it be OK if I shared my perspective on this issue?” 

3. Share the science 

Vaccine hesitancy is often fueled by fear and lack of understanding. You can help debunk conspiracy theories and correct misinformation.  

If the person is concerned about the safety of the vaccine, you can reassure them that all three vaccines available in this country have gone through the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. If you receive resistance, you might offer up additional points such as:

  • “The FDA has authorized these vaccines now after reviewing a lot of evidence carefully. Independent experts confirmed that they meet high safety standards.”  
  • “The vaccines went through the same rigorous three-phase clinical trials process as all other vaccines.” 
  • “Studies show the vaccine is effective at keeping you from getting COVID-19. Getting the vaccine will protect you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19.” 

4. Be honest and supportive 

Being open and honest will help build trust in your recommendation to get vaccinated. It’s also important to acknowledge uncertainty and what we’re still learning about COVID-19. Talk openly about vaccine side effects and effectiveness rates. You might share any questions or concerns you initially had about the vaccine and how you overcame them. 

No matter how the conversation goes, it’s essential to remember that it’s ultimately their decision to make. You might offer additional resources and support by saying something like:  

  • “This is definitely your decision. If you have any questions at all, I’m here for you.”  
  • “I’m glad we had this discussion, and I appreciate that you shared your concerns with me. Making an informed decision is important.” 
  • “Would it be helpful for me to provide more information?” 

5. Model the behavior 

As healthcare workers, we are powerful influencers to our patients and our community. And our actions speak louder than our words. UW Medicine will require all employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to this autumn and most employees already are. Together, we can encourage vaccinations and a safer environment for our patients, families, friends and community.  

 For additional conversation guides and frequently asked questions, visit the Washington Department of Health website.

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