How to talk to people about vaccinations

GP in clinic and Vaccinations

As a doctor or healthcare professional, you are in a unique position to help the people you care for make a well-informed choice about vaccinations.

The World Health Organisation named ‘vaccine hesitancy’ one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. Twelve months later, the Covid-19 pandemic renewed conversations about vaccines and fired up a number of so-called ‘Anti-Vaxxers’ – people who refuse vaccines.

The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex. Complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence are some of the key reasons underlying the reluctance to use vaccinations.

So, how do you talk to someone hesitant about or anti- vaccinations?

Talk to the general population, not strident anti-vaxxers

It’s important to distinguish between anti-vaccination activists and those who are hesitant about vaccines for other reasons. Since the invention of vaccines, there’s always been a small but vocal group of people who stridently oppose vaccinations and will be unwilling to consider the facts and scientific information provided.

Pick your battles. Share the facts about vaccinations and readily answer questions from people who are unsure or who need reassurance.

Discuss their reasons for vaccine hesitancy

If you’re talking to someone who is unsure about vaccinations, encourage them to ask questions and ask why they are hesitant. Their concerns could be around practical issues like accessing the vaccine, or they may have had negative experiences with healthcare systems in the past. Others may want to understand the vaccine better, so talk to them about how the vaccine works and the benefits of the vaccine ingredients.

Take the time to ensure their questions are answered and that they understand the answers you’ve given.

Be respectful

It’s easy to get hyped-up by vocal anti-vaxxers and pseudo-science published online. But this is not representative of most people and many may be afraid of sharing their stories or concerns around vaccines for fear of being labelled an ‘anti-vaxxer’.

Remember that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Treat the person you are talking to with respect and do not use disrespectful language – nobody likes to be told they’re a bad parent.

Don’t bombard them with facts

While it is helpful to provide facts, further information and important statistics, do not bombard your patient with too much information. Be mindful of how the conversation is going and take the time to ensure you are talking to your patient at a level that they understand. Many will not have the same level of scientific literacy as a doctor, so while educating people is key, pelting them with scientific jargon could be a step too far for most.

See public media as an opportunity

Be an advocate for vaccines. Help to share factual information about vaccines so that the general public have better access to the facts. Keep up-to-date with your own vaccines and tell friends, family, or post about it on social media after you have done so. Humans are subject to narrative bias – despite widely available facts and statistics, we internalise narratives and experiences more effectively. By sharing your own positive experiences with vaccinations and how they have saved the lives of many people around the world, you will be contributing to a positive message about the importance of vaccines.

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Bethany Rogers
12 July 2021Article by Bethany RogersMedrecruit Editor