As COVID-19 vaccines transition from the hypothetical to the actual, with Pfizer seeking an emergency use authorisation from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration that could see the first Americans being inoculated against the disease as early as December, the discussion around actually taking a vaccine grows more personal.
Beyond the usual suspects — the hardcore anti-vaxxers and the COVID-19 deniers — are the family and friends who are weary of, if not wary of, the whole pandemic. They may not want to suffer through scheduling a series of shots for their whole household, assuming that “everyone else” will do it, and that will be good enough. Or maybe they don’t trust the record speed at which the vaccines have been developed and tested. Still, as the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have pointed out, in order to end the pandemic and return our lives to something approaching normal, vaccination is important.
So, how should we talk to our loved ones who may be considering not taking the vaccine at all? Here are some information and tools to help you begin the conversation.
Acknowledge their reasons to be hesitant
Before confronting this person with a stream of links, consider what may be going through their mind in regard to taking a COVID vaccine.
Some may be operating based on misunderstanding, rumour, or false information — or perhaps they just don’t know what the vaccination really entails or how critical it is. Some may believe the vaccine being administered is a prototype and has not been not properly tested. But while the process has been accelerated, no steps have been skipped, according to Ruth Karron, MD, a vaccine expert who has worked with the CDC and FDA, in an interview published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The vaccines have been undergoing trials for months and current data indicates several of them are highly effective. Any vaccine approved to be administered to the public is first approved by the FDA and appropriately tested for general use.
Let this hesitant friend or family member know that the vaccine they’ll receive won’t be part of a first-wave trial, and that extensive human trials will have already been completed by the time they themselves would receive the vaccine. But be clear about what the side effects could be: CNBC spoke with trial participants who reported side effects such as bad headaches and daylong exhaustion. Acknowledge that they may experience minor side effects, sure, but that it’s better than the severity of actually contracting COVID-19.
Address the history of vaccinations in marginalised communities
Many Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) have been the victims of experimental vaccines and targets for cruelty in the U.S. For example, beginning in the 1930s Black men were the focus of the Tuskegee syphilis study, which was conducted without their formal consent. For 40 years the participants were denied knowledge of their diagnosis while being subject to medical tests without proper information and denied proper treatment and access to penicillin once it became available.
The history of people of colour and medical malpractice created a distrust in the medical infrastructure in the United States, often leading to an apprehension or scepticism of medical professionals and vaccines. A survey by The Undefeated and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 27% of Black Americans said they “definitely won’t” take the vaccine, and 22% said they “probably won’t.” Acknowledge this part of history, and offer your confidence in the advances since then.
Discuss what it would take for our country and economy to recover from the pandemic: Herd immunity is necessary for people to go back to work, children to return to school, and life to return closer to normal. Perhaps refer them to accessible information you could watch together, like the documentary special Coronavirus Explained, which explains that at least 75% of a population would need to be vaccinated to stop the spread and begin eradicating the virus.
Give personal accounts
Currently there are over 12 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, but personal experience often outweigh large, inaccessible numbers. A 2015 study led by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) worked with a group of individuals who were against vaccinations, and found that individuals had a change of heart after viewing real accounts of children with measles. Share personal stories you have heard or experienced. Detail interactions you have had with the virus, or reference a true account that may resonate with them on a personal level.
Since March, people throughout the world have been living within at least two separate spheres of reality. One sphere is inhabited by those who have changed their daily habits in light of the global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, their every action now dictated by a desire to keep themselves...Read more
Remind them of the vaccinations they already have
The majority of people today have not experienced a pandemic prior to this one, with the previous on being over 100 years ago. The reason we do not still see widespread mumps, rubella, or polio are because enough of the population received the proper vaccinations. (For example, as the World Health Organisation explains: “herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated. The remaining 5% will be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated.”)
People may not realise that the only way to eradicate COVID-19, like previous pandemics, is to be vaccinated against the virus. It may be a difficult conversation, but acknowledging their resistance, sharing your confidence, and emphasising the role of vaccines through past pandemics can help give them the tools to make a more sound and educated decision on taking a COVID-19 vaccination.