How to talk to a friend who doesn't want to get vaccinated

Adult society is slowly becoming separated into two camps – those who are choosing to have their vaccine and those who are declining it.

And this is causing problems among families, friendship groups and workplaces.

Mentor Natalie Trice tells ‘Just like Brexit and Covid itself, the vaccine is a really emotive issue and one that is causing divides between decision makers, business owners as well as between friends and family members

‘We all have our own opinions when it comes to vaccines and when someone has a particularly strong opinion that doesn’t fit with those of family and friends, tensions can run high, harsh words can be spoken and rifts can become fixed. 

‘It doesn’t have to be this way – but you do need to have a certain amount of empathy and understanding for someone else’s point of view and thinking.’

So how do you approach the topic with a loved one? And what do you even say to them?

Experts have shared some things to keep in mind.

Listen to their concerns

There are numerous reasons why someone might be reluctant to get the vaccine – whether it’s a phobia of needles, health concerns or other issues. 

Sonia Khan, a senior pharmacist at Medicine Direct, says: ‘When speaking to a friend or family member about why they may be hesitant to get a vaccine, it is important to listen to their side of the story. 

‘Not everyone that is vaccine hesitant is an anti-vaxxer, some individuals may genuinely have a fear of medical procedures, while others may want the vaccine but are hesitant and are waiting until more people around them have been vaccinated.

‘Let them know that it is completely normal to have concerns about a vaccine and even share some concerns of your own. If you have had the vaccine, it may also be helpful to even share your side of the story, how you found it, how you felt before you went for the vaccine, which vaccine you had and even some of the side effects that you experienced.’

Sonia says this will give the individual a safe space and a trusted partner to confide in. 

It’s also a good idea to encourage them to speak to family members or friends who have also had the vaccine and get them to share their experiences.

Don’t be a salesman

Sonia adds: ‘It is important not to push your own opinions, beliefs, or thoughts too strongly onto the person as this could sway them completely the different way. 

‘People like to make decisions in their own time without being pushed or forced – try to point them in the right direction of trusted sources of information that they can read in their own time that will address some of their doubts and concerns.’

Keep it simple

Dr Will Budd, a medical advisor at myGP, says it’s a good idea to keep it simple and stick to the facts when talking about the Covid vaccine – particularly with all the misinformation that’s already out there.

He says: ‘My advice is to avoid medical jargon that might overwhelm them. Although you’ll have done some myth-busting research in advance, remember to keep your language accessible when you raise the topic with your friend. 

‘The simplest way to break it down is to explain that the vaccine works by teaching our immune system what the virus looks like. Once it knows what to look out for, our bodies can go into battle prepared. 

‘Covid attempts to enter our cells using keys it had on its outside surface, but the vaccine teaches our bodies to make locks. Once vaccinated, even if you come into contact with the virus, you should be able to neutralise it or at least reduce the number of viruses that infect you.’

Be open-minded and have empathy

As with any difficult conversation, try to stay calm and be empathetic.

Sonia adds that focussing on the positives of getting vaccinated could also be a good way to approach it.

She says: ‘You should focus on encouraging an open-minded conversation and talk about how everyday life will get easier as a result of being vaccinated. Address things that could be used as an incentive such as being able to travel hassle free, being able to see older or more at-risk relatives or friends.

‘Persistence, empathy, and patience is needed. It’s unlikely that someone will change their mind after just one conversation, but it’s important to encourage them to openly speak about their hesitancies with you.’

Don’t attack

You might feel frustrated, but it’s vital not to show this when you’re having a serious chat and never let the conversation turn into an attack.

Natalie says: ‘You have to think about what they mean to you and how much you value having them in your life before you lay down the law and give them ultimatums on your friendship, because they might walk away and you could lose them altogether. 

‘You might think this is a no-brainer, but not everyone is in agreement and if you push it too hard, things could get nasty. Think about it before you wade in, maybe this isn’t your battle to win.’

Direct them to professionals

If you don’t know how to answer your friend’s concerns, be sure to direct them to medical professionals who might be able to help.

Dr Will adds: ‘Encourage them to speak to a healthcare provider, whether it’s their GP or a member of the team at the local vaccination centre. 

‘If they’re still hesitant to get their jab, encourage them to at least book their appointment. Once they’re in the vaccine centre, there’s no legal obligation to go through with the jab, but the team can answer all the questions they have and, hopefully, help them reach a point where they’re confident to join the millions who’ve already been vaccinated.’

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