Vaccines save 2 to 3 million lives each year and are amongst the greatest advances of modern medicine.

The development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is a huge step forward in our global effort to end the pandemic.

This is exciting news, but there are still some people who are skeptical or hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines. Chances are you may know a person who falls into this category – maybe among your group of friends or in your family.

If you are unsure of how to approach conversations about vaccines with vaccine skeptics you know, you’re not alone. We spoke to Dr. Saad Omer, Director at the Yale Institute for Global Health, about the do’s and don’ts of navigating these difficult discussions.

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Do connect with their values

Even if you are feeling frustrated, it is important to be empathetic. "Make them feel heard,” advises Dr. Omer. Attempt to connect with their underlying sentiment. For example, if they are tired lockdowns, or of missing out on certain holidays or activities, connect with them over the fact that celebrations and usual events will be able to resume once we are all vaccinated.

Dr. Omer also suggests talking about COVID-19 and how devastating it has been. If you only speak about vaccines “it’s not a full picture, and has somewhat lower chances of succeeding,” he explains. When the discussion comes back to COVID-19, it places the focus on the trade-offs we have all had to make such as physically distancing ourselves from loved ones and missing out on normal daily activities.

Don’t interrupt

Make sure not to cut off, speak over or jump into correcting your loved one. Listen to the person you are talking to and meet them where they are. “You shouldn’t agree with any false information, but you should empathize and continue the process rather than ending your relationship or ending the conversation,” says Dr. Omer.

Do help them feel empowered

Right now, many people are scared. The pandemic has completely transformed our lives. Dr. Omer suggests giving your loved one an empowering message: You can do something about this disease. Remind them that they can take control of their own health, as well as helping to protect others in their family and communities by electing to get vaccinated. “[They] can do something about it. These vaccines work.”

Don’t focus on misinformation

“Be careful about countering a misperception too directly,” says Dr. Omer. Your conversation shouldn’t be all or mostly about addressing a specific misconception or theory because there will always be more misinformation and theories that follow.

Calling attention to misinformation can also backfire by making the misinformation more memorable than the facts. But sometimes, you cannot get out of addressing misinformation. If you find yourself in that position, Dr. Omer suggests the following approach: fact, warning, fallacy, fact. Here’s how it works:

  • Start with the fact: COVID-19 vaccines are extremely safe and effective.
  • Clarify that misinformation is coming: Say, “there is misinformation about______.”
  • Mention the fallacy (myth) that you are addressing.
  • End with the fact. Demonstrate why what they’ve heard or read is incorrect.

The most important thing is to “replace the misinformation with the correct information,” explains Dr. Omer.

Do assume they are going to get vaccinated

Simply offer to your friend or family member to help them book a vaccine appointment or drive them to get vaccinated. This method is called presumptive communication. “The announcement approach or presumptive approach has been shown to be successful in the clinic and is likely to work in personal communication,” says Dr. Omer. You’re not taking away someone’s autonomy, all you are doing is establishing a verbal default.

Don’t get discouraged

Convincing someone who is opposed to vaccines is a long process. “It’s extremely tough,” says Dr. Omer. Remember that for those who are strongly opposed to vaccines in general, their opinions will not likely be changed in one conversation. The important thing? “Maintain a connection with them.”

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