How to talk to your friends and family about vaccines
Tips for handling tough conversations with your loved ones.
Vaccines save 2 to 3 million lives each year and are amongst the greatest advances of modern medicine. However, there are still some people who are skeptical or hesitant about vaccines. Chances are you know a person who falls into this category – maybe among your group of friends or in your family.
If you are unsure of how to approach conversations about vaccines with vaccine skeptics you know, you’re not alone. We spoke to epidemiologist Dr. Saad Omer, Dean of the O'Donnell School of Public Health at UT Southwestern, about the do’s and don’ts of navigating these difficult discussions.
Do connect with their values.
Even if you are feeling frustrated, it is important to be empathetic. “Make them feel heard,” advises Omer. Attempt to connect with their underlying sentiment. For example, if they are worried about protecting their loved ones, connect with them on the fact that vaccines have been proven to keep people safe against diseases that used to take millions of lives before they were developed – one example being measles.
Make sure not to cut off, speak over or jump into correcting your loved one. Listen to the person you are talking to and meet them where they are. “You shouldn’t agree with any false information, but you should empathize and continue the process rather than ending your relationship or ending the conversation,” says Omer.
Do help them feel empowered.
If you're speaking to someone especially scared of illnesses, Omer suggests giving them an empowering message: You can do something about protecting yourself and others from disease. “[They] can do something about it. These vaccines work.”
Don’t focus on the myths.
“Be careful about countering a misperception too directly,” says Omer. The discussion shouldn’t be all or mostly about addressing a specific myth because there will always be more myths that follow. Calling attention to a myth can also backfire by making the myth more memorable than the facts. But sometimes, you cannot get out of addressing misinformation. If you find yourself in that position, Omer suggests the following approach: fact, warning, fallacy, fact. Here’s how it works:
- Start with the fact. Vaccines are extremely safe and effective.
- Warn before the myth is coming. Say, “there is misinformation about______.”
- Mention the fallacy (myth) that you are addressing.
- End with the fact. Show why the myth is not true.
The most important thing is to “replace the misinformation with the correct information,” explains Omer.
Do assume they are going to get vaccinated.
Simply say to your friend or family member, “Let’s go get vaccinated!” This method is called presumptive communication. “The announcement approach or presumptive approach has been shown to be successful in the clinic and is likely to work in personal communication,” says Omer. You’re not taking away someone’s autonomy, all you are doing is establishing a verbal default.
Don’t get discouraged.
Convincing someone who is opposed to vaccines is a long process. “It’s extremely tough,” says Omer. Remember that for those who are strongly opposed to vaccines in general, their opinions will not likely be changed in one conversation. The important thing? “Maintain a connection with them.”
Interview and article by Mandy Letterii, Digital Content Writer, UNICEF