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Starting the important “vaccine” conversation

We all long to return to a more normal life. But there are still a lot of people in the “wait and see” mode when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some of those people may be a coworker, family member or close friend. So how do you have a conversation with them about the importance of getting vaccinated?

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“I want to stress the importance of making others feel that their thoughts, feelings and concerns are valid,” said Ahlyssa Pinter, MSW, LCSW, manager of Behavioral Health Ambulatory Services at OSF HealthCare. “If the person is open to it, you can help them identify accurate information so that they can make an educated decision to become vaccinated.”

Anxiety vs. facts

Someone’s opinion about vaccines often centers more on their anxieties than facts, so the conversation can be a bit difficult. Some people are completely dead-set against receiving any vaccine and no amount of discussion will change their mind. But there are others, the so-called “vaccine-hesitant,” who are waiting for more people to be vaccinated before taking that step themselves.

When approaching a friend or family member who may be hesitant about getting vaccinated, Ahlyssa says to start by asking what their concerns are about the COVID-19 vaccine and why they are hesitant about being vaccinated.

“Ask them what they’ve heard about it and why are they hesitant about becoming vaccinated,” she said. “Having this discussion in a respectful manner would be the best option so that neither side becomes immediately defensive, leading the conversation to not go well.”

What to say and not say

It’s important, Ahlyssa said, to listen to them and understand why they aren’t sure about getting the vaccine.

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“Ask them to share their concerns with you,” she said. “I would not put anyone down for their beliefs or concerns. I wouldn’t tell them that their thoughts or feelings are not valid, because they are. Let them know it’s OK to have questions and then try to address those concerns with factual information.”

For example, maybe their biggest concern is about the potential side effects of getting vaccinated. Direct them to information from trusted sources, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the fact sheets from the pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – that are available from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Body language and eye contact

As with any conversation, your body language and eye contact are very important.

“Having your arms closed in front of you with your legs crossed comes across as not being open to the conversation,” Ahlyssa said. “Keeping your body open in the discussion shows the other person that you are engaged in the conversation and that you really do have an interest in what the other person has to say. Maintaining eye contact also helps the person feel like they are being heard and that what they have to say is important.”

Addressing myths and misinformation

When addressing COVID-19 vaccine myths such as they cause infertility, give you COVID-19, contain microchips and are something you’ll have to pay for, direct them to trusted sources like the CDC and the FDA that can help dispel those myths.

“It may be beneficial to help provide real, empirical, evidence-based information to help them make an educated decision regarding the vaccine,” Ahlyssa said. “A lot of the information that we see comes from social media and that is not always the most accurate information. By providing evidence-based information, you can help them debunk any misinformation that they may have previously received.”

Don’t focus on the science

While you could talk about mRNA, the virus’s spike proteins and viral vectors, that scientific knowledge might not be the best thing to draw on when talking to vaccine-hesitant people.

“It really depends on the person and their interest in the science behind the vaccine, but this is not really a ‘one size fits all’ scenario,” Ahlyssa said. “Rather it’s an understanding of the person and how they would best understand the information being presented to them.”

Female doctor with a stethoscope on shoulder holding syringe and COVID-19 vaccine. Healthcare And Medical concept.

Talk about the safety

It’s understandable that people would have concerns about the safety of vaccines. This is a new virus with new vaccines that were developed using existing technology and processes. But share with them how the vaccines have been tested on tens of thousands of people from diverse backgrounds.

“We can say, at this moment in time, we have enough data to know that the slight risks are far outweighed by the benefits of being vaccinated,” she said.

It’s about moving forward

For some, the best strategy may be to focus on what herd immunity could offer –  a path to getting back to all the things they miss – family connections and celebrations, vacations, eating in restaurants, hugging grandma, meeting new people and more.

Getting vaccinated will help protect you, your family and your community and build the herd immunity that’s needed to end this pandemic.

About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016.  A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Iowa and Illinois.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook, bake and read. She freely admits that reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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