Talking to your family about vaccine hesitancy

Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography

Despite nearly two years having passed, it seems we’re not close to being finished with COVID-19.

Folks are tired of hearing about it, and rightly so: it’s dominated conversations and the media for so long, it can feel overwhelming.

But even with the advent of new and powerful vaccines, we’re still in conflict with the virus; which can sometimes put us at odds with our own families as well.

While certain demographics have been successful in reaching high rates of vaccination status, there are still folks who either are refusing or avoiding getting their jabs. More likely than not, some of these people could be within your own family.

With the holidays recently passed, you might have engaged in long and frustrating conversations about vaccines and COVID-19. Maybe you didn’t even see some family members due to their vaccination status — or lack thereof.

Talking to family can be difficult at the best of times, and a politically charged international pandemic is a much harder topic than who forgot to do the dishes after Christmas dinner. We have some general tips about having those tough talks with family and close friends, how to convince them to rethink their views and how to address the dreaded conspiratorial thinking.

 Listening and asking

There’s a big temptation to get frustrated and list all the reasons why getting vaccinated is not only a breeze, but the morally right thing to do.

But preaching on a pedestal might hurt your chances more than help.

Take the time to listen to their concerns and ask questions. If they’ve gotten information from somewhere, ask where they found it and how they know it’s a reputable source.

Try not to use judgemental terms; take to heart their worries and anxieties and recognize them, before asking permission to share information from reputable sources.

If they’ve just been wishy-washy rather than actively engaging against vaccines, you can help them find their reason “why” to get a vaccine, instead of all the reasons “why not.”

Being able to socialize, having the ability to attend events that require vaccine status and seeing family members without the risk of infecting others are great reasons to get vaccinated.

From there, make it easy on them: help them set up a time and place for a vaccination, transport there and back. The more convenient you can make the whole process, the more likely they are to get things done.

Conspiratorial thinking

The dreaded conspiracies. They’ve taken root in the hearts and minds of many folks the world over and, similar to COVID-19, the effects of this infection are long-lasting.

If you’re wanting to have a conversation about someone’s deep dive into the world of conspiracies, try not to do it online. It’s too easy to double-down and get emotional on social media in order to keep up appearance. If you can have a phone conversation, a distanced social visit or a Zoom call, it’s preferable to trading comments on a screen.

Approach the conversation with empathy. Let the person know how you feel or how you might be worried about them; how their vaccination status might mean they could miss out on important events in the future, like weddings or birthdays.

Don’t dismiss them and their beliefs outright. Instead, try to find common ground.

It’s a powerful thing to admit that, yes, some conspiracies have existed in history. But then point out how those ended up shaking out.

Things like Watergate or sexual abuse scandals: these, when revealed, quickly unravel in a whirlwind of journalism, witness statements and further details. Start to ask questions as to the logistics: how would conspiracies similar to the one’s alleged about COVID-19 be possible? The bureaucracy and logistics that would go into them seem superhuman, beyond the capability of any government body.

The idea is not to change minds immediately. This is a long process and it can take time. Avoid the temptation to debunk and fact-check every statement a person says as this can further harden them in their beliefs.

Instead, asking questions of: “where did you read that? How can you trust that source? Do you think that’s possible?” will be more productive in the long term.

Conspiratorial thinking can be dangerous. Make sure that if you believe a friend or family member may have the chance to harm themselves or others, that you don’t attempt to handle things on your own. Safety is a number one priority.

And unfortunately, there is a point and time where you may have to set a firm boundary.

If you have a pre-existing condition that makes COVID-19 an extremely dangerous possibility, even with your own vaccination status, you may have to let someone know that — until they can provide proof of their status — your relationship may have to change drastically.

It’s not something anyone wants to do. Creating and enforcing those boundaries is difficult. But when it comes to one’s own health, well-being and safety, giving in to the demands and frustrations of others is not an enjoyable prospect either.