Here’s How to Convince a Vaccine Straggler to Finally Get Their Damn Shot

President Joe Biden announced a month-long push in June for 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4. Right now, we’re only at about 64 percent of people age 18 and older. Some of that is access. But some is still vaccine hesitancy. Who’s holding out?

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation vaccine monitor, people under 30 have the highest percentage of “wait and see” responses when asked about their intentions to vaccinate. “We see more and more people who are either willing to get the vaccine or have flipped from the category of ‘no’ to ‘maybe later,’ but this age group doesn’t appear to be necessarily driving those hesitancy decreases,” says Kirsten Hokeness, Ph.D., chair of the department of science and technology at Bryant University, who’s been researching vaccine hesitancy. It’s not only important for this group to be inoculated to help keep Covid rates down on a population level, it’s also important since they’re in age groups that tend to constantly congregate whether that’s for school, athletics, or social events, Dr. Hokeness points out.

What’s up with vaccine hesitancy in people under 30?

People under 30 aren’t a homogeneous group, so there are many different reasons that are likely driving hesitancy.

Unsurprisingly, social media is one. “Younger adults get more of their information through their social networks or social media,” says Sunil Kripalani M.D., a professor of medicine and member of the Center for Effective Health Communication at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “There are a lot of individual narratives there—it’s what the platforms were built on—and someone who shares a personal experience may get the same weight as someone who’s considered an expert.” When there are so many voices, the ones people tend to believe are the ones they relate to the most, he adds. Sometimes stories and ideas get passed around that make people more concerned about the vaccine and less concerned about Covid than they should be.

Another is a perception that any risks and effects of the vaccine are greater than the risks of getting Covid itself, says Dr. Hokeness. They may have seen or read about friends who got mild Covid and had no lingering effects—not unusual in this age group—and think it’s no big deal (it still can be; the CDC recently noted a troubling rise in Covid hospitalizations among people ages 12 to 17). And this group points to concerns people in other age groups voice as well, including politicization of the vaccine, distrust of pharmaceutical companies, and distrust of how quickly the vaccines were developed.

What communities are doing to convince people to get vaccinated

Communities and retailers have become increasingly creative in coming up with ways to get people in to be vaccinated. For instance, there have been programs in Ohio, New York and Maryland where a vaccination gets you a lottery ticket. By now, most people have heard about or taken advantage of Krispy Kreme’s donut-a-day promo for vaccinated folks (show your card, get a donut). And it goes on. In Washington state, according to Olympia, Washington’s Kiro7 news, cannabis retailers are temporarily allowed to offer “joints for jabs” promotions—retailers may provide one joint to an adult customer who received a Covid vaccination at an in-store clinic. But not everyone can be bought, and there are other ways to help get vaccination rates up.

How to talk to people who are hesitant about the vaccine

You’re more likely to convince someone in the “wait and see” group to get vaccinated than someone in the “won’t get vaccinated” group. A few approaches to try:

Meet them where they are. “First, understand what’s on their mind and driving their decision-making process,” says Dr. Kripalani. “If someone perceives their Covid risk to be very low and they perceive their risk of side effects from the vaccine to be high, then we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re reluctant to get vaccinated.” Then you can discuss those things, rather than just delivering a speech. “Sometimes, it’s important not to drive the conversation,” says Dr. Hokeness. “You might want to open it up wide and say, ‘hey, let’s have a conversation about this. What are your concerns?’” and go from there. “It’s important to recognize that sometimes if you push too hard, the person may go in the opposite direction,” she says.

Provide context. If people are concerned about being flattened by vaccine side effects, it may be worth pointing out how bad an actual Covid infection can be, says Dr. Kripalani. “We know that even when people have a mild or moderate infection, which young adults are more likely to get, they can have persistent symptoms for a really long time,” he says. You can explain to them that the vaccine may leave them with a day or two of fatigue, but Covid could leave them with a month or two of diminished exercise tolerance, fatigue, and an inability to carry out work due to brain fog, he points out.

Have them talk to friends who are vaccinated. “In this age group, people tend to listen to each other,” says Dr. Hokeness so you can suggest that they talk with people the know and respect about what factored into their decision to get vaccinated.

Point to the global community. Someone who doesn’t see the risks of Covid might consider getting vaccinated because it’s a good thing to do as a citizen of the world. Or because it might help keep their grandparents safe. Taking the emphasis off it being a decision that only affects them alone may have an impact.

Appeal to their desire to do the things they love. All the facts about vaccine safety and efficacy might not affect someone who is much more of an emotional decisionmaker. For that group, consider talking about what they’ve been missing, like graduations and other milestone celebrations, and how they’ll be able to celebrate those things when vaccinated.

Have the facts at your fingertips. If people have been getting information that’s inaccurate, trying to combat their information sources will be an uphill climb, notes Dr. Kripalani. Instead, provide additional information and fill in some gaps. The CDC has a whole online toolkit that spells out answers to common questions and facts about the vaccines.

Help them figure stuff out. “As educators, we can’t necessarily persuade people to change their minds, but what we can do is help people open their minds to be able to reflect and think critically about the information they’re getting and not just go with the first piece of information they see,” says Dr. Hokeness. You can do the same thing. If someone has a notion about the vaccine, help them figure out whether there are other trusted sources that support that notion.

Don’t expect immediate change. “Don’t feel like you have to drive someone toward making a decision right then and there,” says Dr. Kripalani. Vaccines are likely something they’ve been thinking about for a while. Let the new information from your conversation brew. “If they’re not ready to get vaccinated, point them to some additional information or some other people to talk to and then circle back after a week or two. Leave a foot in the door and ask them if it’s okay for you to circle back with them later.”

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