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How to Have a Vaccine Conversation

Use the three C’s: compassion, connection, and collaboration.

Key points

  • Vaccine conversations can be frustrating and it may take several conversations at different points in time before you are successful.
  • What people want is reliable information, compassion, and understanding. Not judgment.
  • With every vaccine discussion, we have the potential to move the needle against the virus.
 l a ra/Pexels
Source: l a ra/Pexels

Tearful, she recalls the death of her husband. “I couldn’t be there at his side. We couldn’t have a funeral. It’s so hard to get closure.” Her husband passed away of COVID-19 in early March of 2020. She had also fallen prey to COVID-19 and nearly lost her life shortly after her husband’s death. Then, her adult son contracted the virus. He wasn’t hospitalized, but was fairly ill. When the vaccine became available, she received it as soon as she was eligible, but her son still didn’t trust it.

This puzzled me. After losing a father, almost losing a mother, and experiencing the wrath of the virus firsthand, what was the reason for the distrust? It wasn’t a denial that the virus was real. The virus had hit home. Yet he still refused to get vaccinated despite medical guidance that has stood firm on the recommendation for those who have previously contracted COVID-19 to be immunized.

 cottonbro/Pexels
Source: cottonbro/Pexels

Too often, those who are unvaccinated are demonized by those of us who are. It’s us vs. them, science vs. denialism. However, as a physician, the unvaccinated population is quite near and dear to me, as many are my own patients.

What people want is reliable information, compassion, and understanding. Not judgment. They don’t want threats, mandates, or consequences; they want empowerment, options, and time, and to be supported to make the right choices for their health. Unfortunately, the delta variant has made time a luxury we can no longer afford. The time to act is now.

With every vaccine discussion, we have the potential to move the needle against the virus. When having a conversation with a loved one, colleague, or friend, the approach that works best for me is the three C’s: compassion, connection, and collaboration.

Compassion

 Asha Shajahan, M.D.
The three C's.
Source: Asha Shajahan, M.D.

There are a lot of powerful mechanisms that might push a person to believe inaccurate information they find, particularly online. We have all fallen for misinformation in some way or another. Media literacy is an increasingly elusive skill set in the rapidly evolving digital age. Rather than judging a person for the news he or she may consume, meet them with compassion. Bi-directional, empathetic conversations offer opportunities to build trust. Calling someone “dumb” or “crazy” isn’t helping anyone. As outrageous as a claim may seem, the person believes it for a reason. Have the patience to hear them out, consider their needs and the rationale for abiding by what they learned, and ask what about this claim is attractive. The decision to be vaccinated is based on deep-seated values, biases, and motivations. Try to learn more about those ideas, beliefs, and backgrounds that may be different from your own. In other words, listen to understand through empathy. Look from their point of view and uncover more about this person’s perspective and motivations. Listen actively and try not to interrupt, retort, or correct.

Connection

Rather than focusing solely on the vaccine, consider common goals. This may include protecting our health, being able to travel internationally, or doing the things we used to before COVID-19. Connect on lifestyle and health goals, rather than controversial vaccine misinformation. Make it clear that you care about the person’s well-being and safety. Explain why it matters to you if they are vaccinated or not. Pay attention to your tone and body language, and be open to feedback. If you are emotional or worked up on the topic, it may not be best to have the conversation.

Collaboration

Go into these conversations without the intent to change someone’s mind; rather, consider how you can support them to make the best decisions for themselves. Look through vaccine information together. Practice strategies to decipher misinformation such as looking at the source, the date, and the author, and verifying the information before sharing. Refer to a health care provider or trusted health expert for a one-on-one conversation to bring up concerns. Offer reliable resources from universities and medical establishments rather than political or government sites. If they are ready, offer to find a vaccine appointment or go with them to get vaccinated.

 nappy/Pexels
Have the conversation.
Source: nappy/Pexels

Vaccine conversations can be frustrating and it may take several conversations at different points in time before you are successful. Be prepared that a person may never change their mind. You are having the conversation to plant a seed, eventually—with enough watering—the seed will grow.
We are all in this together whether vaccinated or not. We can’t move forward without each other. Try having a compassionate conversation and see if it works. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to seek the humanity in each of us.

References

http://www.misinforx.com

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