Despite robust research and studies showing COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, the U.S. continues to struggle with vaccine hesitancy. One of the most effective ways to increase vaccination rates is through peer-to-peer influence. How can one person help those close to them feel safe receiving the vaccine? It starts by understanding the barriers to vaccine confidence.
Common Reasons for COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy
In my research on this topic, I spoke with Chanda Moellenberg. Chanda is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in public health. She oversees Medical Teams International’s COVID-19 vaccine program in Washington state. Chanda identified several barriers to vaccination. These included mistrust of medical and government institutions, the spread of misinformation, and concerns over safety and religious abstentions.
Equity also plays a role in vaccine access. COVID-19 disproportionally affects the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community. They are more likely to work in essential roles and may not be able to get to a vaccine clinic during a workday. Language and cultural barriers can also negatively affect the relationship between patient and provider.
Additionally, there is a tragic history of abuse toward the BIPOC community. This understandably causes mistrust of healthcare institutions. It is important to be aware of barriers to vaccination for people who have been marginalized. We must also work alongside these communities to build strategies to increase access to vaccines.
It’s easy to see how any of these issues could affect vaccine hesitancy. But there’s also good news – one-on-one conversations can make a difference. A positive encounter, compassion, and open-mindedness could be all someone needs to decide to get vaccinated.
One way to combat misinformation is by citing facts from reputable sources. Knowing how to evaluate a resource is essential. For example, ask yourself, “Is this a government or personal website? Is this news source biased, or non-biased and reliable?” Once you have a strong knowledge base from credible sources, you can address some of the common fears.
One reason people cite for vaccine hesitancy is the perception that scientists developed the vaccines too quickly. In truth, the CDC reports that mRNA vaccine testing has been going on for decades. Scientists have researched this type of vaccine for other illnesses such as the Zika virus, rabies and influenza. They have also rigorously tested this vaccine for COVID-19. Tens of thousands of people participated in the studies of their safety and efficacy.
There are many other myths circulating about the vaccines. Myths about how the vaccines were developed, and their long-term effects and efficacy. Educate yourself first from reputable sources so that you have factual answers for questions from friends or family.
How to Address Vaccine Hesitancy
Once you’ve gained an understanding of the reasons for vaccine hesitancy, what can you do about it? Compassion is key. Most people are not moved by someone reciting a long list of facts. A personal story or connection can be much more powerful. Perhaps a factor in your own decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine was an immunocompromised loved one. Knowing you can protect people who cannot get vaccinated can be a powerful motivator. Giving a personal example or story helps to build trust.
It is also important to ask open-ended questions. Find out why a person is hesitant. Do not assume that you already know what drives their hesitancy. Make sure that you are transparent in your intent and continue to try to build trust. Being as safe as possible is a common goal. Be a thoughtful listener and look for values that you can connect on. We all want to be heard and understood.
It is also crucial that we work toward being culturally competent. As stated above, the Black community in America has a long and pervasive history of being mistreated by the medical system. One must consider this in the context of vaccine hesitancy. Cultural competence is vitally important and personal history must be considered when discussing the vaccine.
Leading With Compassion
It may seem overwhelming to think about how one person can address vaccine hesitancy. But, if you look to your own circle of influence, it’s easier to see how you can make an impact. It’s also important to give yourself grace. It’s okay if you don’t have an immediate answer to someone’s question. You can write it down, validate your loved one by saying, “That’s a really good question. Let me see what I can find out, and I’ll let you know.” Make sure to follow up.
It’s important to understand the unique barriers people face when it comes to vaccines. Additionally, it is wise to examine and unpack any privilege you may have. You must arm yourself with accurate, up-to-date information from reputable sources.
Finally, when you talk with someone, lead with compassion. Listen with the goal of understanding and hearing a person’s story and concerns. Ask open-ended questions and clarify values when your conversation nears its close.
Kelly Hood, RN, BSN
Kelly Hood is a guest writer for Medical Teams. She is a registered nurse and nurse writer, focusing on writing about topics related to health and medical care. She is from Salem, Oregon and received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from George Fox University in 2013.
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