How To Talk To A Vaccine Skeptic - Erin's Inside Job

How To Talk To A Vaccine Skeptic

This post is sponsored by I Vaccinate.

I strongly believe in the efficacy of vaccines and the science behind them. That’s why I’ve been working with I Vaccinate for over two years, and even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t hesitate to share about why I think vaccines are important. I’m also one of the first to admit that rather than have a discussion with someone who is skeptical about vaccines, I’m much more comfortable not talking to them at all. I also (falsely) assumed that everyone who didn’t want to vaccinate was in the extreme camp, like those who have repeatedly come after me each time I’ve posted on Instagram about why I believe in vaccines. Thankfully, I researched how to talk to a vaccine skeptic and came to understand that many people are simply hesitant and not aggressively anti. That group certainly exists, and I’ve experienced their wrath first hand, but it would be unfair for me to dismiss everyone who doesn’t immediately jump on the vaccine train.

With the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine debate has made the front page once again and we are put in situations where we need to talk to other people about their decision to get vaccinated or not. Because of this, I’ve put together some of the best tips on how to talk to a vaccine skeptic in hopes that it will help you navigate what could quickly become a heated situation.

Understand there is a spectrum

When people hear that someone doesn’t want to vaccinate their child or themselves, it is easy to label them as an “anti-vaxxer,” a label that has become synonymous with aggressive, outspoken non-believers. It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone who is hesitant about vaccines behaves the same way. There is a spectrum of vaccine-related beliefs, and many are simply concerned about various aspects of vaccines and need a safe space to discuss the facts and make a decision. Immediately assuming that a person is on the extreme end of the spectrum can shut down a conversation before it’s even happened.

Listen with empathy

Many people simply want their concerns to be heard, which can be hard if assumptions are immediately made about the level of conviction they have. Take the time to actually listen to someone’s concerns rather than shutting down your ability to even hear something that goes against what you believe.

Often, vaccine hesitancy tends to come from a place of concern about the well being of one’s children. It comes from a loving place, but a lot of misinformation on the internet has caused confusion and skepticism. By listening to their concerns with empathy, it can be easier to want to help and converse about this subject.

Don’t judge

Things like judgement, failure to listen, and stereotyping someone before there’s even a chance for a conversation isn’t going to get you anywhere. It immediately puts the other party on the defensive and there is little to no room for productive conversation. If someone came to attack something you believed by telling you you were wrong, how likely would you be to open up and talk to them about it?

Another good suggestion when learning how to talk to a vaccine skeptic is to try and use “I” statements rather than pointing out things about the other person when discussing vaccines.

Refer appropriate sources

A lot of skepticism about vaccines is related to misinformation. Much of the information that is held as truth by vaccine skeptics is outdated and false and has been disproved by scientific studies. Gently providing unbiased resources for those who wish to make a more informed decision can be helpful. My favorite resource, and one that I have been using for over two years now, is the FAQ section of the I Vaccinate webpage. There are a ton of commonly asked questions and easy to understand, scientific answers. The scientific studies and sources are also linked so that you can read those yourself if you’re interested.

The biggest thing that I learned when I looked into the importance of vaccines is the concept of herd immunity. This refers to the fact that as more people get vaccinated against a disease, they then create protection for those who aren’t vaccinated. Because I never had any health issues that prevented me from getting a vaccine, I never thought about those who physically weren’t able to get one even if they wanted to. I don’t think it’s a false statement to say that we live in a selfish society, and I have a strong feeling that other people haven’t stopped to think about those populations either if it’s something they’ve never had to deal with. The populations that are more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases are:

  • pregnant women
  • elderly
  • babies too young to receive vaccines
  • those who are unable to receive them due to a variety of medical reasons

Hearing that my ability to help others by getting vaccinated was actually a big reason why I started getting an annual flu shot.

Understand when to stop

While some who are vaccine-hesitant may be able to have a discussion about what can become a heated topic, some simply can not. Some, such as those who believe that the current COVID-19 vaccine contains microchips or who actively attack those who choose to vaccinate their children, may be unreachable. It’s important to understand who is able to have a mature conversation and who is beyond the point of doing so. No amount of scientific research is going to change their mind.

Set boundaries if needed

If you encounter someone on this more extreme end of the spectrum, know that you may need to set boundaries. Even if you know someone who is not extreme, but still chooses not to vaccinate, you may decide that what’s best for your family is limiting contact with that person. Boundaries around vaccines may look like:

  • limiting the amount of time your child plays with an unvaccinated child
  • not discussing vaccines with someone who is strongly against them
  • ceasing physical contact with family members who choose not to get vaccinated, as in the case with the COVID-19 vaccine

Boundaries are important to protect yourself and your family, but they are hard. Remember that you are only responsible for setting the boundary — not the response that the boundary creates. You are causing a change in the system, so it’s only natural that there may be some pushback. Any negative reaction is the responsibility of that person, not you who has set the boundary.

If you’ve had the experience, what are some of your best tips on how to talk to a vaccine skeptic?

Other I Vaccinate posts can be found here.

3 comments on “How To Talk To A Vaccine Skeptic

  1. Excellent and obviously timely post. I love that you mentioned using “I“ statements when talking to someone who is against vaccines to some degree. As a psychotherapist, I regularly tell clients that starting sentences with “You“ it’s a sure fire way to get a defensive response from someone, which can then lead to an unhealthy exchange.
    Again, thank you for taking the time to write this piece.

  2. An anesthesiologist I worked with taught me a great lesson. When someone would say they were afraid of being anesthetized she would ask if there was a specific thing they were afraid of. It made it so much easier to explain and reassure. I think I have been less tolerant of Covid hesitancy than I should be. It mostly makes me angry because the disinformation is so ridiculous. And their hesitancy makes me less safe and delays all of our return to normal

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