October 25, 2021

Vaccine Concerns: What’s Holding You Back?

…So what is holding people back from getting their shot?

Many who have already gotten the jab struggle to understand why someone would not want to protect themselves and others from the virus. However, when it comes to persuasion, shame is not an effective strategy, so it is important that we approach our unvaccinated family members, neighbors, and colleagues with openness and compassion. The end goal of vaccination is protection for all; acting with concern for community well-being can help inspire reciprocity on the part of unvaccinated patients. Only by understanding the fears of unvaccinated populations will we, as health care providers, be able to allay those fears.

Below, we list out some of the main reasons people hesitate to get vaccinated and potential responses to their concerns.

“This vaccine was developed way too quickly.”
Though it may seem like the vaccine’s production schedule was disproportionately rapid, the truth is that the development began long before the virus became widespread. Scientists have been developing the RNA approach to vaccine creation for years, most notably in regards to HIV treatment. The COVID-19 vaccine being distributed today has a basis in research that started decades ago. Once scientists were able to determine the genetic sequence of the coronavirus, it was merely a matter of attuning the vaccines to the specificities of this virus.

But how were they able to do that so quickly, when a successful HIV vaccine still hasn’t been produced? The answer is that many barriers to disease treatment and research were removed due to the urgency of the global pandemic. Worldwide cooperation across 74 countries allowed the research to be streamlined. With other diseases, medical research takes longer because is private corporations fund research in the hopes of future profit. In a world where the norm is for scientific progress to be tied to profits, progress can be impeded or slowed if it does not seem financially beneficial for the research funders. This is why it might come as a surprise this particular vaccine was developed so quickly, but the COVD-19 vaccine is the culmination of far more years of work and collaboration than many realize.

“I’m worried about side effects.”
This hesitation is definitely perpetuated by the abundance of misinformation out there. Who could forget the scandal when Nicki Minaj tweeted about her cousin’s friend’s swollen testicles, a supposed side effect to the vaccine? Unfortunately, second-hand horror stories like this are hugely damaging to the efforts to distribute the vaccine, because anecdotal evidence is a very powerful tool of persuasion. Furthermore, when the truth is that getting the vaccine often will result in a day or two or fatigue, fever, or other symptoms, it’s really hard convince people to put themselves through an unpleasant experience.

However, these short-term side effects are actually proof that the vaccine is working, and that your immune system is prepared to launch a stronger attack against any coronavirus cells it may encounter. The CDC has given repeated reassurance that the chances one will experience long-term side effects are miniscule, and historical precedent for vaccinations of this kind provide further evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe. With millions of shots already distributed, there have been statistically zero reports of side effects lasting longer than a couple days.

What can be found are thousands of testimonies to the symptoms of COVID-19 itself. Though people may get over their initial COVID-19 infection in a matter of weeks, many experience lasting effects of the virus like fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain, and neurological problems that affect memory, smell, and taste for months after infection. The chance of long-term symptoms after exposure to coronavirus itself vastly outweigh the chances of long-term effects form the vaccine.

“I can’t afford the vaccine.”
In our current health care system, patients have good reason to fear surprise medical bills after medical appointments, and millions of Americans currently face “medical debt.” When both insured and uninsured folks live in fear of giant medical bills that have the potential to bankrupt them, it’s easy to see why people are worried about the cost of the vaccine. Luckily, however, the COVID-19 vaccine is completely free to the public, regardless of insurance status. If someone is trying to charge you for a COVID-19 vaccine, you’re being scammed.

“I’m worried about presenting an ID/documentation.”
Undocumented immigrants face additional barriers when it comes to almost every aspect of life, but receiving medical treatment is particularly challenging when the risk of deportation looms heavily over processes involving government-issued identification. Thankfully, the COVID-19 vaccine is available to all, regardless of immigration status. Though certain vaccine locations in some states do ask for proof of residency, the federal government has not imposed any ID requirement on individuals seeking the vaccine. Free and charitable health centers like CommunityHealth exist all over the country. If someone you know is feeling anxious about approaching a medical professional without documentation, help them find a place they can go to feel safe.

“I can’t afford to take time off work, and I don’t have adequate transportation.”
Many individuals do not have paid time off in their jobs. However, the American Rescue Plan funds an incentive for employers: a tax credit to those that provide full paid leave for any employee who takes time off to get a COVID-19 vaccination. many employers are actually mandating that their employees get vaccinated, and it’s important that individuals know they are likely able to do so without losing income.

When it comes to transportation, a lengthy commute can be a huge deterrent. If someone expresses that they aren’t able to get to a vaccination site, help them look into vaccine pop-ups in their area and transportation services, which are more common than they might expect. Uber is also offering free rides to vaccination sites in many areas.

“I don’t have anyone I can trust to talk to about my vaccine and health concerns.”
Most unvaccinated individuals say that their most trusted source of information about vaccines is their doctor… but what if they don’t have one? Have you thought about what’s it’s like to be without a primary care physician you trust? Or without informed family members? Or any voice of authority that you trust? For folks who don’t have consistent, verified information about coronavirus and the vaccine, there may not be a lot of motivation to seek out the shot on their own. Without a trusted doctor who knows their specific medical history, they have no reference for how the vaccine will interfere with other medications or health conditions. These concerns are valid! Every person is different, and thinking about unvaccinated people as individuals is an important way to begin having a conversation about their vaccination hesitations. Talk specifically, and encourage them to speak candidly with a doctor, who will be knowledgeable about the particulars of their concerns.

“I’m still not convinced.”
Unfortunately, no matter how much you try, there will still be people who remain unwilling to get the vaccine. If they really insist that they won’t get the vaccine, try shifting focus. The vaccine is important, but it’s just one way to protect your community from COVID-19. Even if they don’t feel comfortable getting the vaccine, that doesn’t mean they should abandon all other disease-prevention protocols. Encourage masking and social distancing, and let them know that there are other ways to show that they care for their community.

Tips to keep in mind in order to maximize persuasiveness:

  • Encourage empathy: It’s all about protecting each other and keeping our communities healthy. Make it clear that the decision to get a vaccine is selfless one. Appeal to their sense of care for other people.
  • Offer a “face-saving” way to change their mind: People are generally very unwilling to change their position once they’ve taken a stance. No one wants to hear “I told you so.” Educate unvaccinated folks non-judgmentally, and make it clear that there’s no shame in changing their opinion once they’ve gotten all the facts.
  • De-escalate tension: The madder people get, the less likely they are to change their minds about something. Be sure to keep a cool head when entering conversations about vaccination.
  • Focus on your relationship to that person: If you’re trying to convince a loved one, be sure that they know you are motivated by your care for them. If things do get heated, return to the fact that you’re only having the conversation because they mean so much to you.