I have family members and close friends who say they don’t want to get the Covid-19 vaccine when it’s their turn. How can I encourage them?

Uncertainty and Misinformation Vaccines

A: Lead with love, then with facts. Share your enthusiasm and commitment. Make it easy and fun. Acknowledge past hurts.

We already know that hesitancy about the Covid-19 vaccine is running high. Recent survey data (linked below) show that anywhere from 20-40% of US residents report being “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to get the vaccine. Lots of folks report being nervous about safety, concerned about how “rushed” the vaccine development has been, or just don’t think they need the vaccine.

It’s one thing to read about survey statistics. What about when it’s your own nearest and dearest who seem, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about something that has you jumping up and down!?!

Decades of research on vaccine acceptance and vaccine hesitancy (some of it done by your very own Nerdy Girls, see link below) suggest that there is no single message or strategy to persuade people to vaccinate. (Or, for that matter, to quit smoking, get a mammogram, or become more active). We do know a few rules of thumb that can help:

💕 First, lead with love. If you’re keen to promote the vaccine to loved ones, share why. “I’ve been so worried about you during the pandemic, and worried about me, and I want us to be able to see each other and go out in public without that fear.” You can also lead with love in hearing them out on specific concerns, and acknowledging that their worries are valid and important.

📊 Next, the facts. If you’re a regular here on Dear Pandemic, you’ve read a lot about myth debunking and information hygiene (see link below for a recent one). While we know that just throwing a lot of facts at someone usually isn’t persuasive (particularly if their mind is already made up), there are steps we can take to help friends and family access the good information, and build resistance to the bad. We already know there will be a lot of myths, misinformation and rumors about the Covid-19 vaccine. If your Aunt Flora tells you she won’t get the vaccine because she’s worried about getting microchipped, see if you can engage with her about her sources of information and her strategies for fact-checking. (For more on addressing conspiracy theories, see Charlie Warzel’s piece linked below.)

🙋‍♀️Be a booster! Excitement and commitment are both contagious. You can be vocal and visible in your networks (online and in-person) about your plans to get vaccinated, and you can show off your appointment reminder, the band-aid on your shoulder, and your “I got the vaccine!” sticker with pride. (Those actions are called “credibility-enhancing displays”, and are particularly effective if you are an influencer!) People look to trusted peers when they make difficult or novel decisions — your joy and confidence in the vaccine could make the difference for someone sitting on the fence.

✍️ Reduce friction and hassle: For many health-related behaviors, the smallest amount of inconvenience or disruption can discourage people, particularly if their motivation is low. We know that zillions of people don’t get their seasonal flu shot each year, even when they intend to or don’t have any specific objections. If you’ve got people like this in your inner circle, see what you can do to make it as easy and fun as possible to get vaccinated. Help them figure out when they are eligible and where to go. Help them make a plan and set up reminders. Ask them to make a commitment and think about a fun reward afterwards. (Sound familiar? This is the same science fueling Get Out the Vote efforts.)

🙏 Acknowledge past hurts and distrust. For many communities, a history of exploitation and unconsented experimentation has left a legacy of justified distrust (see link below). This is particularly true in Black, Brown, and Native American communities in the United States. People may feel that the vaccine “wasn’t made for me” or tested sufficiently in their community. They may worry that safety data aren’t adequate yet for their group. They may be exhausted and dispirited from shouldering unequal burdens of the pandemic. They may just be tired of the government or health care providers telling them what’s best. Trust is hard to regain and rebuild. If you can do so with sensitivity and humility, try to engage with trusted opinion leaders and gatekeepers in your community (clergy, civic leaders) to see if they are open to promoting the vaccine.

It’s true that the route back to normal is going to take 60-70% of the public getting vaccinated. You can help get us there by having the hard conversations, supporting your more hesitant loved ones, and celebrating the remarkable achievement of our Covid-19 vaccine program.


Pew Research survey on vaccine acceptance

Challenges facing a Covid-19 vaccine

How do I fight fake news?

Warzel on conspiracy theories

Origins of distrust in Black and Latino Americans

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