Did you feel frustrated trying to convince a friend or family member to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Or maybe you are that friend or family member and you are tired of people pressuring you to get vaccinated.

While the science is clear that COVID-19 vaccines save lives, starting a productive conversation about vaccination can be difficult. And doctors also experience the same challenge.

We are researchers at UMass Chan Medical School who have risen to this challenge. One of us is an ICU pulmonologist who worked on the front lines in the COVID-19 ICU during the darkest days of the pandemic. And one of us has been studying the patient’s perspective on health and healthcare for many years. To find out the best way for doctors to talk to their patients about vaccinations, we first had to understand what patients were concerned about.

Why people choose (or not) to vaccinate

In April 2020, when vaccines against COVID-19 were still being tested, we asked 1,000 adults in the US about their vaccination schedules and why. About 3 in 10 weren’t sure they would get vaccinated and 1 in 10 planned not to get vaccinated. Both groups cited various reasons for their reluctance, including concerns about the safety and side effects of vaccines, a desire to wait for additional information, a belief that they were not personally at risk, and distrust of the government, the centers for control and disease prevention or vaccinations.

We then conducted another survey in January 2021 when the vaccine was made available to the public, with a new sample of around 1,700 people. The reasons for reluctance to take vaccines hadn’t changed since April 2020. The most common reasons were concerns about vaccine safety, the speed of vaccine development and insufficient testing, and a general distrust of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Additionally, we found that those who wanted to get vaccinated knew more about the transmission of COVID-19, the potential health effects of the disease, and the effectiveness of the vaccine. They were also far more likely to rely on data and statistics to make decisions about their health than those who hesitated to vaccinate.

Doctors can make a difference

If people who don’t want to get vaccinated don’t rely on statistics to make health decisions, what do they rely on?

It turned out that her doctor plays a huge role. Several studies have shown that many people rely on their doctor’s advice when making vaccine decisions.

We tested different approaches that doctors could use to talk to their patients about the COVID-19 vaccine. Although all messages contained statements that the patient was eligible for a safe and effective vaccine, they differed in what the doctor said after this information.

We have found that the most effective message is an explicit recommendation (“I recommend that you receive it”) coupled with a reference to protecting others (“This is the best way to protect those close to you and to keep them healthy ”) was. About 27% of those who got this message were more likely to get vaccinated.

In comparison, the least effective message was elective or indefinite (“So what do you think?”) – only 13% were more likely to be vaccinated after receiving this message.

When we followed up six months later with people who were initially hesitant, about 33% of the vaccination had been preserved since then. Notably, of those who spoke to their doctor who recommended vaccination directly, 52% were vaccinated, compared with just 11% of those whose doctor did not recommend the vaccine.

Their reasons for vaccination varied. More than half said they wanted to protect others. Others expected a vaccination would be needed or were worried about catching COVID-19.

What can you do?

Getting to the heart of a person’s motivation in order to understand their point of view can be an important step. These results can help you have more effective conversations with family and friends – and even with your own doctor.

If you are vaccinated and want to encourage a friend or family member who doesn’t:

  • Suggest that they speak to their doctor. The COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available in doctor’s offices, making vaccination easier in a familiar environment. Your doctor may also be able to reassure you that you are comfortable with the vaccination.

  • Talk about protecting others. Tell them how good it feels to play a role in reducing the spread of a potentially fatal disease.

  • Talk about protecting yourself. Tell them how liberating it is to feel safe.

If you aren’t vaccinated but are wondering if you:

  • Talk to your doctor. Tell your doctor what you are worried about about a vaccination. Your doctor has up-to-date and accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccines and can answer your questions. You can get vaccinated during your visit. If not, your doctor can provide information on where to get vaccinated.

  • Talk to people who have been vaccinated. Many said they were nervous or afraid to get vaccinated, but when they got their COVID-19 vaccination they felt safe and relieved.

  • Think about how you might feel in different situations. Some people don’t mind taking risks with their own health. Others can imagine what it is like to be in the hospital or on a ventilator for weeks and don’t want to take that risk. And almost everyone would feel terrible if they were responsible for someone who got very sick.

Figuring out how to have a productive conversation about COVID-19 vaccines can be tricky. Looping in your doctor is one way to fill the communication gap.

Kathleen Mazor, Professor of Medicine, UMass Chan Medical School; and Kimberly Fisher, Associate Professor of Pneumology, UMass Chan Medical School

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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