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How to talk about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

  • Approximately 23 percent of adults are hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The following guidance is supported by information available at the time of publication. Some information in this article may be out of date. Please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website for up-to-the-minute COVID-19 recommendations.

The COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available to Minnesota and Wisconsin residents 16 years and older. Expanded vaccine availability is a widely welcomed bright spot after a year of “unprecedented” everything, devastation and loss brought on by a pandemic that has claimed more than 500,000 American lives.

But not everyone is eager to get vaccinated. Read on to learn what vaccine hesitancy is, why some are reluctant and how to have an open discussion with loved ones.

What is vaccine hesitancy?

Vaccine hesitancy is the delayed acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability. Approximately 23 percent of U.S. adults are COVID-19 vaccine-hesitant. With more than 100 million doses administered so far, the normalcy you’ve yearned for throughout the pandemic is getting closer by the day. Herd immunity, when a large part of the community is immune to a disease, needs to be achieved to get back to more normalcy.

Encouraging vaccine-hesitant loved ones to get the vaccine can be challenging. It’s normal to have questions or concerns about the three vaccines available for Emergency Use Authorization.

Here are some techniques and facts to help you talk with others about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Techniques for talking about vaccine hesitancy

So how do you start a productive discussion with someone who is vaccine-hesitant? Begin by establishing common ground. What we all likely have in common is the desire to get back to a normal life. For some, how we get there is up for debate.

Here are some ways to have a meaningful conversation.

Start by discussing why they are hesitant to get the vaccine

Vaccine hesitancy and opposition aren’t new. Both sentiments have existed as long as vaccines. Acknowledge that it’s natural to have concerns and there are many reasons people may be hesitant to get vaccinated, including:

  • Misinformation. Like a game of telephone, messages can be forgotten or manipulated from one messenger to the next. Social media continues to be a key vehicle for spreading misinformation.
  • Historical discrimination and implicit bias. There are several well-documented cases of medical racism and bias against communities of color throughout history. The Syphilis Study at Tuskegee is one of the most infamous cases. Unfortunately, people of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

    According to Minnesota Department of Health’s vaccination data, there are significant racial disparities among COVID-19 vaccine recipients. That’s why it’s critical to expand access to minority communities. Health officials now use demographic data to identify barriers and improve how vaccines are distributed and administered to communities of color.
  • Safety concerns and uncertainty about side effects. Some are concerned about side effects and how quickly the COVID-19 vaccine was developed and approved for emergency use. In most cases, the side effects are no worse than other common vaccines.
  • Religious concerns. The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells. The vaccines use clones of aborted fetal cells that have been replicated millions of times since 1985 for vaccine development and testing. The clones do not use the original fetal cells. Many religious organizations say it’s morally acceptable to get any of the vaccines available to you.
  • The desire for a “natural” lifestyle for themselves or children. Some parents believe vaccines are unnatural and go against their values. The vaccine offers more immunity from COVID-19 than getting the virus and recovering.

  • Complacency. As vaccination rates go up, many people don’t see the need to get vaccinated themselves. But it’s still critical to follow safety guidelines and get vaccinated until the virus is controlled.

Should you get the COVID-19 vaccine? Five things to consider.

Make it a conversation

Having a conversation with someone with different views can be difficult. Deciding to get or reject the COVID-19 vaccine can be an emotional decision. Earn their trust by respecting their feelings about hesitancy. Maintain a productive conversation by encouraging dialogue instead of debate. Consider the factors and life experiences influencing their perspective, and approach the discussion with an open mind. One question you can ask is, “Have you gotten the vaccine?” If not, respectfully ask them, “Why not?”

Avoid passing judgment, projecting frustration, interrupting or thinking about what you want to say next. Instead, focus on listening to what they say, whether you agree with them or not. They are more likely to stay engaged with the conversation and listen to your viewpoints when they feel heard.

Be respectful and validate their concerns by echoing what they shared with you. For example, “I can understand why you have questions about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Lead with encouragement and empathy

From there, you can respectfully share your stance. For example, “I decided to get vaccinated because it protects me, loved ones and others in my community.” When you share information about vaccine safety, it’s okay not to have all the answers. Refer them to scientific-based resources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization or your state’s health department website.

Also, encourage them to share any questions or concerns with their provider.

Stick to talking about vaccine facts

You’ve likely heard some of the myths, inaccuracies and conspiracy theories about vaccines. The way we seek out, share and absorb new information has evolved. Today, many are spending more time online, igniting what the World Health Organization calls an “infodemic” – an overload of misleading or false information. Misinformation is thriving during a time of many unknowns. Always verify the accuracy of information before sharing it with others.

Here are few medically-proven facts you can use as talking points in your conversations with a loved one who has questions about the vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective

The vaccines are safe, effective and FDA-approved under the closest safety monitoring in U.S. medical history. Tens of thousands of study participants were evaluated using rigorous standards for Emergency Use Authorization of vaccines to ensure safety and effectiveness. Vaccine trial data helped scientific and medical professionals confirm that vaccines are a safe and effective weapon for getting the pandemic under control.

The vaccine will not give you COVID-19

The vaccines can’t make you sick from COVID-19 because they do not contain the live virus, and it doesn’t have what it needs to survive. The vaccines only introduce a fragment of the virus to your body. The Polio and Tetanus vaccines use similar immunity tactics. The vaccine teaches your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus causing COVID-19.

Severe and allergic reactions are rare

Like many other vaccines and medications, allergic reactions and severe side effects are rare. Approximately one in 100,000 people have experienced an allergic reaction from the vaccine.

You may experience mild side effects, such as:

  • arm soreness
  • redness or swelling at the injection site
  • a mild fever or the chills
  • a headache.

Side effects are temporary and typical signs your body is building antibodies to protect you from the virus. Some people don’t have side effects. The absence of side effects does not mean you’re unprotected from COVID-19. The CDC does not recommend taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin or Tylenol to prevent side effects.

Herd immunity is our best chance at stopping the pandemic

Herd immunity means enough people in a community are protected from an infectious disease. Medical professionals estimate that 70 to 75 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated to stop the spread.

Ultimately, the choice to get the COVID-19 vaccine is up to you. What we all have in common is the desire for normalcy. We can get there by following safety guidelines and getting more people vaccinated as soon as possible.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Stay informed about coronavirus (COVID-19)

    Learn more
  • Get the facts on the COVID-19 vaccine

    Learn more
  • Read frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines

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