State Offers 7 Tips for Talking to Someone About Vaccination

Are you concerned about an unvaccinated loved one? Are you unsure how to start a conversation about vaccination? Want to help but not sure how? Vermont’s top doctor has some advice. 

Vermont’s Covid vaccination rate, unsurpassed nationally and still slowly rising, is making history. As of July 8, 82.5 percent of eligible Vermonters 12 and older had received at least one vaccine dose. That’s the highest rate in the country. But the state isn’t stopping there. Health officials are urging Vermonters to talk to folks who have resisted vaccination.

Levine: Vaccination Rate Makes Vermont Safest Place in Country

Mark Levine, M.D., Vermont’s commissioner of health, said at a press briefing July 6: “Vermonters and the nation have recently witnessed what is probably the most successful population-wide vaccination campaign in the nation’s history, Our success with vaccination here in Vermont has made our state the safest place to be in the country and arguably the world.” 

Despite that success, Levine expressed concern about the less than 18 percent of eligible Vermonters who have yet to be vaccinated. That’s because 99 percent of deaths from Covid occur in the unvaccinated, he said. In addition, the more virulent Delta variant, which is associated with worse outcomes in the UK, is now circulating widely in America. “The majority of new cases in Vermont will be in groups of unvaccinated people,” Levine said.

Why Are Some People Hesitant about Vaccination?

It’s important to realize that people may have distinct reasons for being hesitant about vaccinations. Emily K. Brunson, associate professor at Texas State University, addressed the various reasons in a Q&A on vaccine hesitancy published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. “Common concerns include how quickly the COVID vaccines were developed and if they are safe,” Brunson said. “Many people have adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude in response to these concerns. Others have technical questions including if they should be vaccinated if they’ve already had COVID, if the vaccines will be effective against different strains, and how we will know if they’re safe for children.”

Brunson emphasized that in some cases, these questions are accompanied by a mistrust of medicine, public health, and government more generally. “In communities of color, we can trace this mistrust back to a history of neglect and exploitation at the hands of health care providers and government, as well as people’s recent and personal experiences with structural inequities in public health, medicine, and social services,” she said.

An Opening for Loved Ones to Influence the Hesitant

In Vermont, the health commissioner said the unvaccinated are mostly in the 18-to-40 age range. Well under five percent have no intention of getting vaccinated. The remainder are in the “wait-and-see” category, are concerned about missing work, or have just not prioritized vaccination. That, he said, leaves an opening for loved ones to step in.

“All of us have a part to play in reaching those who have yet to be vaccinated,” Levine said. “We understand from stories and experience the influence that friends and family can have.”

How to Talk With Someone About Vaccination

Levine offered a number of ways family members can reach out to loved ones, especially if you are a parent of grandparent.

  • Have the talk. Even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable, find a way to open the door to respectful, candid conversation. 
  • Learn, don’t lecture. Don’t take your role as having to convince them. Rather, think of your role as finding out the reason that they remain unvaccinated. 
  • Ask and listen. Ask open-ended questions, and truly listen to their reasons in an empathetic and nonjudgmental way. 
  • Check their sources. Determine if they’re using reliable sources of information. Ask if you can share what you consider to be more reliable sources of information with them.
  • Doc talk? Find out if they’ve talked to a healthcare provider about any concerns they’ve had. 
  • Offer Assistance. Help them find a clinic, pharmacy or vaccination event near them. Offer transportation or child care if those are barriers. 

“I realize these conversations aren’t always easy, but your influence likely means more than you know,” Levine said. “We are still committed to getting as many Vermonters vaccinated as possible so we can save more lives and hardship, and so we can maintain a strong wall of protection moving forward into the fall and winter.”

Learn More and Find Resources

The CDC offers guidelines for How to talk about Covid-19 vaccines with friends and family on its website.

To learn more about why people resist vaccination, read Fighting Vaccine Hesitancy: What Can We Learn From Social Science? from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Read Keys to Covid-19 Vaccine Success: Trust and a Healthy Foundation in US News & World Report, which addresses Vermont’s success.Find up-to-date statistics and information on Vermont’s vaccination program at the state’s Covid-19 Vaccine Dashboard.

Watch Health Commissioner’s Mark Levine’s remarks at the Governor’s weekly Covid press briefing on July 6.

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