Many of us have struggled talking with family or friends who are hesitant to be vaccinated for COVID-19. A friend of ESN from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approached us about posting an article from the CDC with helpful ideas for these difficult conversations. We are delighted to share this article, written by Elizabeth Allen, MSPH, CPH, from CDC COVID-19 Emergency Response.
By: Elizabeth Allen
A couple of weeks ago, I ran into a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in months. Before COVID-19, this friend always greeted me with a hug and a big grin, while saying “I’m so glad to see you!” in a way that made me feel special. But as we stood in the grocery store parking lot to chat, we stood apart, smiles covered by our masks, and hands to our sides. I was grateful to see her and get the chance to catch up, but, like most things during the past year, it wasn’t quite the same.
We chatted about our lives and hobbies before the conversation naturally shifted to COVID-19. Her smiling eyes became somber as she talked about how many people had gotten sick and died, how hard this past year had been, and wondered how much longer it would continue. I agreed with her and added a few thoughts and fears of my own.
“But I’ve got my appointment to get vaccinated on Monday,” she told me. I was thrilled for her, but she immediately said, “I’m scared.” I was just about to say “Oh, there’s nothing to be scared of,” but something caught me before I made a sound. Thankfully, my mask covered my attempt to open my mouth too soon.
I work at CDC and have been part of the COVID-19 response for more than a year. As part of my work, I have talked to colleagues about how vaccines are developed and read detailed descriptions about how COVID-19 vaccines work. I could have rattled off talking points and given my friend a laundry list of reasons she shouldn’t be scared, but I had also recently read our suggestions about how to talk about COVID-19 vaccines with friends and family. So instead of trying to act like an authority, I just tried to be a friend and remembered to be empathetic. “What makes you scared?” I asked.
She talked about not always knowing what information to trust and being afraid because these vaccines seemed to be developed so quickly. I listened as she talked about family members who had already gotten vaccinated, and how some had a few side effects. I kept listening as she described her thoughts and fears. When she had questions, I told her about some of the information CDC has on its COVID-19 vaccine pages, and encouraged her to ask more questions of her doctor or the staff at the vaccination site.
Our conversation lasted only a few minutes, but she looked a little less worried and more determined when she said “I made my appointment, and I’m going to do it—because I know it’s the right thing to do.”
The hardest part about the conversation I had with my friend was remembering to be empathetic and ask questions rather than recite facts. She wanted to get vaccinated, but was still apprehensive. You might have similar conversations with friends or family that don’t feel like a success. Getting vaccinated is a personal decision, and each person needs to find the answers to their questions that can make them more confident they are making the best decision for themselves and their family.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging and has caused fear and anxiety for many of us. Getting vaccinated is one of the main tools we have to see us out of this pandemic. CDC’s suggestions for talking about the vaccine with friends and family can help people encourage one another to decide to get vaccinated. When you encounter friends or family who are concerned or hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, try quieting your instinct to provide all the answers (it’s hard, I know!) and lend an empathetic, listening ear instead.
I am grateful that I ran into my friend that day and was given the opportunity to hear her concerns, empathize with them, and offer her information and my support. I can’t say for certain that our conversation is what solidified her resolve to get vaccinated, but it certainly helped. And hopefully, our conversation took us one step closer to a day when we can greet each other with big hugs and giant smiles.
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