As a pediatrician, Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez spends many of her days with nervous moms and dads listening to reasons why they’re worried about their kids receiving vaccinations.
“It often manifests as just complete disagreements on how to raise kids,” Bracho-Sanchez said.
To navigate the complexity, she tells her families that she would never judge parents or accuse them of not loving their kids any less if they’re afraid of vaccinations. She just asks that they talk about it.
For some childhood vaccines it can take years, but skeptical parents often come around.
She is now applying those hard won experiences, in a more accelerated way, nudging families toward getting shots for their kids in how she talks with her own family members hesitant to get their Covid-19 shot.
“These are new vaccines and that comes with a reaction and a fear that is very real,” she said. “I think we also have to remember there is massive misinformation out there.”
Her skills, and those of pediatricians like her, can help you as you talk with your own loved ones about getting protected against Covid-19.
Vaccine hesitancy is shrinking
Nearly 185 million Americans have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In May, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 64% of American adults have gotten or want a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible, 15% will wait and see and 19% will either definitely not get one or will only get one if it is required.
Getting the country over the threshold of herd immunity means finding ways to persuade at least a portion of the people who are still hesitant to get their shot.
In more hopeful news, roughly one-fifth of Americans who were initially hesitant about or squarely against getting the Covid-19 vaccine have since gotten their shots, according to polling released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Those who had decided to be vaccinated after saying they weren’t sure about or didn’t intend to get the shot “often say that family, friends and their personal doctors helped change their minds,” the foundation found.
In that same poll, those who remain unvaccinated reported their main reasons for still not getting a Covid-19 vaccine. Concerns about side effects was most cited (21%), followed by concerns the vaccine was too new, too unknown or not tested enough (16%). Twelve percent reported that they haven’t gotten a vaccine because they don’t think they need it.
Give people space, and listen to their concerns
For many, Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy manifests simply as a fear of something new.
“It is a normal human reaction to be afraid. Fear is very real. It does not make you stupid. It’s normal,” Bracho-Sanchez said. “They’re having a normal reaction and perhaps they haven’t been able to sit down with their physician.”
Look for a time to have a calm, rational conversation, where neither person is angry or likely to start a fight.
“The first thing I would say is ‘I get it. I totally get where you’re coming from and I understand that you’re concerned about this,’” Bracho-Sanchez said.
As you’re having a conversation with loved one, she emphasized being an active and empathetic listener.
“If you really care about someone and you’re trying to help them think through something that could be beneficial for their health, if you yell, if you are condescending, if you share too much that they’re not willing to hear, you might lose that bond, and it closes the door for future conversations,” she said.
As a pediatrician, Bracho-Sanchez has succeeded by nudging parents over the course of multiple conversations.
In addition to listening to people, CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen recommended addressing their concerns individually rather than using blanket statements.
“For example, if they’re worried the vaccine causes infertility, then we can adjust that and link to data that it is safe for pregnant individuals,” she said.
Appeal to their familial circumstances
Appealing to people’s sense of higher obligation may not be effective, said Dr. Wen, but appealing to their familial obligations just might.
Try and find out if someone in their family is elderly, immunocompromised or has young children, she said.
“Children, even if they tend to not become very sick, could potentially have long-term consequences that they live with for the rest of their lives because of the virus,” Wen said.
Cite scientific data
Skepticism to existing vaccines – such as that for measles, mumps and rubella – has been driven by concerns such as a spurious link to autism, which has been disproven by a significant body of research.
Study after study has shown that vaccinations are safe and effective for preventing disease.
And the track record for the Covid-19 vaccines has been particularly strong. Adverse reactions are extremely rare and the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, for instance, have shown an ability to prevent disease well above 90%.
“I think it’s important to note that the more that a group of people know about the vaccine, the more likely they are to take it,” said Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association.
Earlier this year, Pfizer released six months of data showing its vaccine is safe and effective. Steps like that could help satisfy holdouts. Some 23% of those opposed getting the vaccine cite wanting “to wait to confirm it is safe,” according to Gallup back in March.
“That’s another common question that people have, ‘Well I want to wait a while and see how it goes. Well, we have waited a while and everything still looks great,” Bailey said. “The bottom line is the greatest risk is not getting the vaccine and becoming ill with Covid.”
She recommended pointing people to Get Vaccine Answers, a website created by the Ad Council, which offers clear explanations on how the vaccines work, how they were authorized for use, and what it feels like to get vaccinated.
And CNN has created a resource with helpful, scientifically informed responses to common issues that those who aren’t sure yet about the vaccines often bring up.
Emphasize the social norm
“There are groups of people who are vaccine hesitant because it’s part of their social identity,” said Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and a California state senator, who co-authored 2015 legislation to remove personal belief as a reason for vaccine exemptions.
“Before it was crunchy white moms who were into wellness and essential oils. That was the stereotypical vaccine hesitant mother.”
There’s a different poster child for Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy.
Pan, a Democrat, cited a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found 29% of Republicans and 28% of White evangelical Christians say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine.
“They’re the ones who don’t think the Covid virus is that serious. They say that mask-wearing doesn’t help or is for sissies,” Pan said.
While 3 in 10 are opposed, that still means a majority have either gotten vaccinated or plan to.
“In political terms, that’s a landslide. It’s over two-thirds,” he said.
One way to bring the remaining white conservatives on board, he added, is recognizing that most of them are already doing the right thing. And people often mimic the behavior of others in their social group.
“When they hear that you chose to vaccinate, they’ll consider it because you’re part of their social circle,” Pan said. “That becomes the social norm for your immediate social circle.”
Share why you’re getting vaccinated
Sometimes, the best approach for Bracho-Sanchez is to get personal with new parents during their kids’ appointments.
Her reason for getting the Covid-19 vaccine was simple. She was pregnant. She tells how she got the shot during her second trimester even when minimal data about the vaccines’ performance was available.
Believing in the mantra, “Healthy mom, healthy baby,” she wanted to be protected because she knew getting Covid-19 was worse.
“It was really well-received,” she said. “Moms would be like, ‘Really? You did?’ And they paused and sort of thought about it.”
There are plenty of positive reasons to share.
“Another strategy is to find out what that person is interested in and what they have been missing since the pandemic began,” Bailey said. “Are they missing being with relatives? Are they missing events they used to attend? Have that person understand that the quickest way for us all to get back to those things that we miss is for 70% to 80% of the population to be vaccinated.”
For people wishing to travel abroad this summer, getting vaccinated could be their ticket to getting into some countries – or at least traveling without having to take a Covid-19 test.
Many destinations, such as Denmark, France and the Bahamas, have made testing optional for vaccinated individuals.
Some people who were infected and subsequently plagued by long Covid symptoms have reported feeling better after their vaccinations.
Stories like that could be a light at the end of the tunnel for those who’ve had a rough go of it living through the actual virus.
Stress the importance of receiving both doses
In mid-June, 88% of people who were eligible to receive the second dose of the vaccine had done so – down from the 92% completion rate reported earlier in the year, according to the CDC.
For some people, they suffered through a range of side effects that made many hesitant to receive the second dose.
It’s crucial to receive the second dose of the vaccine, because it greatly increases the effectiveness of it, Wen said.
“Some people do have fatigue, body aches and so forth with the vaccine, but that is many times better than having Covid-19,” she said.
Experiencing temporary side effects after receiving a vaccine is actually a positive sign, according to some doctors. It shows that your immune system is working, although the vaccine works regardless of whether you have any symptoms after you take it.
Help them schedule the appointment
And finally, vaccine hesitancy could be a matter of just being unsure about how to actually make the appointment and get to the vaccination site.
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“Help them schedule it,” Bracho-Sanchez said. “Especially people who are afraid will be like ‘OK, yeah, I think I’m going to do it.’ And then they don’t. It’s sometimes just because the logistics are a little bit of a hurdle.”
Pull up your local public health department’s website together. Offer to drive them to the clinic to make it a little easier.
“If you care about someone, you should help them,” she said. “Say ‘Let’s do this together. Let’s do something, so if you get vaccinated, let’s grab dinner after. Let’s celebrate together.’ Just something extra like that to show that you care.”
Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed to this story.