How to Encourage Hesitant Friends and Family to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

• A new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor might shed light on what will encourage people to get vaccinated.

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• The survey found that 21 percent of adults who said in January that they planned on waiting to get the vaccine have since been inoculated.

• People said seeing their friends and family having positive outcomes after getting vaccinated helped push them toward getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccinations have slowed in the U.S with about 68 percent of the adult population partially vaccinated.

Experts are now looking for new ways to encourage people to get vaccinated.

A new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor might shed light on what will encourage people to get vaccinated.

The survey found that 21 percent of adults who said in January that they planned on waiting to get the vaccine have since been inoculated.

These people said conversations with their friends, family members, and doctors as well as seeing those close to them get vaccinated without experiencing any serious side effects were the reasons they changed their minds.

“Vaccine hesitancy can unfortunately spread just as fast as COVID-19,” said Dr. Eric Ascher, a family medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “One story with misinformation can circulate in the media very quickly, and we have seen that. What we do know is centuries’ worth of information on how vaccines work, and their safety profile.”

He added, “The best way to combat hesitancy is sharing the information that scientists and doctors gathered about vaccines to help debunk common myths.”

Having helpful conversations with vaccine-hesitant friends and family

Medical experts say it’s important to talk with compassion when having conversations with others who may be hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I always come back to the notion that you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Disrespecting a person who has declined vaccination so far won’t get you very far in persuading them. You must never disparage them,” he said. “You must always respect their concern and understand that their hesitancy is valid, and then try to help them overcome that hesitancy by making them comfortable enough to decide to receive the vaccine.”

There are several reasons people are still hesitant to get vaccinated.

Understanding what the common fears are, and acknowledging each person’s individual reasoning, is the first way to broach the subject.

Common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine

Myth: “The vaccine will alter my DNA.”

This is a common concern among vaccine-hesitant people. Here’s how you may try speaking with friends and family who have this concern, according to Ascher.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. This does not alter your DNA. It sends a picture of what COVID-19 looks like and instructions on how to fight it if infected,” Ascher told Healthline.

“Your body then destroys the picture and instructions but remembers them if needed. If the body comes in contact with the virus, it recalls what it looks like and pulls out the instructions on how to fight it,” he said.

Myth: “The vaccine was made too quickly.”

Schaffner recommends addressing this concern by acknowledging the fact that the vaccine is new, and that it is understandable that people may find that concerning.

However, billions of vaccines have been given globally. As a result, experts have a clear idea of the benefits and risks of vaccination.

And the number of people closely monitored during the COVID-19 vaccine trials is in line with other Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaccine trials.

Additionally, while these specific vaccines may be new, the research used to create them isn’t new, and was actually developed over decades.

“It’s been given to more than 186 million people in the U.S. alone,” Schaffner said. “Now we have a pretty good track record that it is really very, very safe.”

Ascher added it’s important to remember that much of the scientific community worked together for the vaccines’ development, which is one reason the vaccines were released so quickly.

The U.S. government also gave money to pharmaceutical companies so that they didn’t have to wait to fundraise to start a new phase of a clinical trial.

“Vaccine development requires a large amount of money,” Ascher said. “It could take more than 10 years to fundraise for vaccine development. Because of the desire and the need, we were able to bypass this. The entire scientific community around the world worked together in sharing research from over 30 years on this type of vaccine.”

Myth: “We don’t know about long-term effects.”

Severe side effects of most vaccines are extremely rare. If they do occur, it will be within weeks of getting the vaccine.

“Vaccine monitoring has historically shown that side effects generally happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine dose,” according to the CDCTrusted Source.

CDC officials clarified that they required 2 months of follow-up data after vaccination due to this understanding that side effects will appear shortly after injection.

“Of all the vaccines we use for our infants, children, and our fellow adults, and there must be 20 vaccines we use, none of them have long-term effects. That is one argument you can really put to rest,” Schaffner said.

Explaining vaccine side effects

It’s true: the vaccines do have some common side effects.

But it’s important to convey that the symptoms and risk of COVID-19 are much more serious.

“A sore arm and a mild fever, body aches, headache, and chills for 24 to 48 hours is much more welcomed than a potential ICU hospital stay or even worse, death. A vaccine that is 90 to 100 percent effective against hospitalization and dying is remarkable,” Ascher said.

This isn’t to say there’s no chance for serious side effects. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused temporarily earlier in the year due to the rare development of blood clots in certain people.

However, according to the CDCTrusted Source, the reports represent a rate of 7 events per 1 million vaccinations among women ages 18 through 49, and a rate of 0.9 per 1 million among women 50 and older.

As for the rare blood clotting associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, “that side effect was dominantly in women younger than age 50 and only with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We have plenty of Pfizer and Moderna to go around,” Schaffner said.

Additionally, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is linked to a slightly increased risk of the nerve disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. According to dataTrusted Source from Johnson & Johnson and Janssen, the current known risk of this syndrome is about 8.1 per 1 million doses administered.

On July 23, an independent panel that advises the CDC found that the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine still far outweigh the risks.

Personal liberty vs. personal responsibility

One of the most common arguments among people who are vaccine hesitant or staunchly against vaccines is the disruption of their own personal liberty.

This is the argument that can be one of the more difficult to tackle.

Again, compassion, understanding, and validation of someone else’s feelings is always an easier way to have a conversation than with blame or shame.

Schaffner scripts out that conversation as follows:

“You are half right. Of course it is your decision what to do. But you know, this is a contagious infection, so your decision, I have to tell you, is not just about you. It affects people around you. This is my opinion, but the single most responsible thing you can do is to be vaccinated so you can’t pass it on to anyone else who might get really sick.”

How we communicate with people matters, and it can make a difference.

If you can help one person get vaccinated, we’re one step closer to ending the pandemic and making the world a much safer space again.

“Disrespecting the person who has declined vaccination so far won’t get you very far in persuading them,” Schaffner said. “Validate it for them and what specifically concerns them, and then they will be listening. They’ll tell you their specific issue, and you can deal with it in a very gentle, positive, supporting way.”

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