Vaccine hesitancy is real and if not dealt with, could unnecessarily extend the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully as more and more people get vaccinated, the degree of hesitancy appears to be declining. But what can you do if one of the people refusing to get the vaccine is a friend or family member? What can you say or do?
First a definition. The WHO defines vaccine hesitancy as the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccine services. They go on to say that it is complex and context specific, varying across time, place, and vaccines and is influenced by factors such as complacency, convenience, and confidence.
Dealing with hesitancy is not merely about conveying the facts. Unfortunately we live in an era where anecdote is more powerful than facts. All you have to do is look at the amount of attention given to the few stories of allergic reactions to the vaccine vs the number of vaccines administered. That is not to say that vaccines are without risks, but what fails to get reported is the extremely low likelihood of having a bad reaction.
Population Level Efforts
Efforts are being made by public health authorities to deal with vaccine hesitancy at a population level. Some have hired local ambassadors to go out into the communities and speak with people (without judgement) about the vaccine in a culturally appropriate way. When people see that it is someone who speaks their language and is not an outsider, they are more willing to listen.
A recent story about church leaders taking up the fight against vaccine hesitancy caught my eye: Blessing by way of medicine: These pastors preach COVID-19 vaccination as God’s healing power. Although the headline is a bit sensationalist, the story talks about the work of Father Paul Abernathy who took to the streets to spread the word about the benefits of getting vaccinated. Father Paul is well-liked by members of St Moses – a Black Orthodox church in Pittsburgh.
To me the takeaway from this story is not whether the church should or shouldn’t get involved in convincing people to get vaccinated (or not as is the case for some religious leaders), but rather that a trusted member of a local community is having success at getting through to people who were hesitant about the vaccine.
But does this approach work when close personal friends or members of your own family are vaccine hesitant?
Friends and Family
I consider myself lucky. My mom has a group of friends and neighbors that are all anxious to get vaccinated – mostly so that they can see friends and family with less worry about contracting COVID-19. To them, the vaccine means freedom from worry and time with loved ones.
However, I do have some friends who are adamant that they will not get vaccinated until next year when “the next batch of vaccines come out – that will be safer and better”. It’s like they are comparing the vaccines to buying a car, a computer, or a TV where next year’s model is always better than the current one. I’ve tried to tell them that although it may be true that future vaccines will be “better”, their argument ignores the fact that they are putting themselves in danger for the next year…which is totally unlike buying a car, computer or TV.
I’ve tried logical arguments. I’ve even forwarded helpful articles that present a balanced view on vaccines, but all to no avail.
However, after reading a few articles like this one from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the best way to convince my friends and any family members who are hesitant may be to just get myself and my family vaccinated.
According to the article, “Knowing someone who has been vaccinated and seeing that the vaccine does not produce any significant adverse effects is emerging as the leading reason people are willing to get vaccinated themselves. It means that vaccine hesitancy will diminish naturally as more and more people are vaccinated, leaving smaller groups of the remaining vaccine hesitant to focus more resources on.”
I saw proof of this over the weekend when my mom was able to be vaccinated. As soon as word spread in our family circles, one person who had been hesitant suddenly asked for help to make an appointment (she is in the age group that is currently being vaccinated in Canada). In the weeks prior, she had expressed concern about being vaccinated.
While this certainly seems effective, it is dependent on vaccine supply. Is there anything that can/should be done ahead of time?
On Tuesday March 23rd at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here), join the HCLDR community as we discuss who to deal with vaccine hesitancy amongst friends and family.
T1 How have you dealt with vaccine hesitancy amongst friends & family? What has worked well?
T2 Do you believe that it is just a matter of being a good example that will help reduce vaccine hesitancy? Or do public health need to continue to work to get the public on side?
T3 How do you deal with a friend or family member that does not get vaccinated? Is it feasible to exclude them from gatherings?
T4 Discussing health of friends and family is somewhat akin to talking about finances – it’s uncomfortable. How can this topic be broached?
Butler, Robb. “Vaccine Hesitancy: What it means and what we need to know in order to tackle it”, WHO, March 2015, https://www.who.int/immunization/research/forums_and_initiatives/1_RButler_VH_Threat_Child_Health_gvirf16.pdf?ua=1, accessed 21 March 2021
Altman, Drew. “Seeing Others Vaccinated May Be The Best Cure For Vaccine Hesitancy”, KFF, 10 February 2021, https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/perspective/seeing-others-vaccinated-may-be-the-best-cure-for-vaccine-hesitancy/, accessed 21 March 2021
MacDonald, Noni et al. “Working with vaccine-hesitant parents: An update”, Canadian Pediatric Society, 14 September 2018, https://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/working-with-vaccine-hesitant-parents, accessed 21 March 2021
Willis, Olivia. “What should I say to someone who is hesitant about the potential COVID-19 vaccine?”, ABC News, 19 September 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2020-09-20/coronavirus-vaccine-hesitancy-talking-to-friends-and-family/12677774, accessed 21 March 2021
Kobin, Billy. “Louisville’s Black health care and church leaders urge cooperation on vaccine hesitancy”, Courier Journal, 20 March 2021, https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2021/03/20/covid-19-vaccine-louisville-health-black-church-leaders/4781370001/, accessed 21 March 2021
“Don’t Hesitate: Talking to Your Vaccine-Hesitant Loved Ones with Compassion and Confidence”, Voices for Vaccines, 2016, https://www.voicesforvaccines.org/content/uploads/2016/02/Vax-Hesitant-Loved-Ones-Toolkit.pdf, accessed 21 March 2021
Cassata, Cathy. “How to Talk to Friends and Family Who Are Hesitant to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine”, Healthline, 17 December 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-to-talk-to-friends-and-family-who-are-hesitant-to-get-the-covid-19-vaccine, accessed 21 March 2021
Mohdin, Aamna. “’She was so scared’: family and friends tackle Covid jab hesitancy”, The Guardian, 15 March 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/15/so-scared-family-friends-tackle-covid-jab-hesitancy, accessed 21 March 2021
Lloyd Wilsom, Steven and Wiysonge, Charles. “Social media and vaccine hesitancy”, BMJ Global Health, 23 October 2020, https://gh.bmj.com/content/5/10/e004206, accessed 21 March 2021
Golden, Sherita Hill. “COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: 12 Things You Need to Know”, Hopkins Medicine, 2020, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid19-vaccine-hesitancy-12-things-you-need-to-know, accessed 21 March 2021
Rosenbaum, Lisa MD. “Escaping Catch-22 — Overcoming Covid Vaccine Hesitancy”, The New England Journal of Medicine, 12 February 2021, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMms2101220, accessed 21 March 2021
Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash