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How to talk to someone who is hesitant about the coronavirus vaccine

How to talk to someone who is hesitant about the coronavirus vaccine

Given how new COVID-19 vaccines are, it’s normal for people to be unsure or have questions about getting one. Here’s how best to talk to people about vaccine hesitancy and navigate the delicate discussion.

Vaccine hesitancy can be difficult to talk about

Vaccine hesitancy can be difficult to talk about Source: Nick Mooney/SBS News

Australia has fared well compared to other countries when it comes to how it has contained coronavirus.

Our vaccine rollout is now underway and there is an ever-expanding eligibility pool of people who can roll up their sleeves for a shot, though some Australians have shied away from getting a jab right away.

Talking to family members, friends, or colleagues about vaccine hesitancy can be tricky to navigate, so what’s the best way to approach it?

Be gentle

Sydney psychologist Sahra Behardien O’Doherty says it’s important to approach the topic gently and facilitate an open conversation.

“It’s important that we have lots of conversations and realise this isn’t an ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ type of situation,” she says

“I would want to be getting them to assess in their own minds the pros and cons, the positives and negatives, where their fears are coming from and encouraging them to use a critical lens on the information that they are accessing about the vaccines,” Ms Behardien O’Doherty said.

“[Then] they are able to make a really informed decision not just on their own choice of whether or not they think the vaccine is going to be beneficial to them, but also beneficial to their community.”

Point to statistics 

Melbourne GP Billy Stoupas says he often gets consulted about the side effects of coronavirus vaccines, especially around the very rare blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca shot.

“We spend a lot of time talking about and understanding where [patients’] concerns lie, the numbers of clots, the incidents of it and the fatalities that come from it and then putting it into perspective,” Dr Stoupas says.

Some community concern resurfaced on Thursday following the death of a NSW woman who contracted the clotting syndrome, which authorities believe was likely linked to the AstraZeneca shot – though experts were quick to reassure Australians about the overall safety and effectiveness of our vaccines.

Authorities say you have a greater chance of winning the lottery than developing the rare clotting disorder, and the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh the risks.

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As of Friday, 48 people in Australia had so far experienced the rare clots – 31 of whom had already been discharged from hospital.

The recent death of the NSW woman was the second fatal clotting case out of 3.6 million AstraZeneca doses, and much more is now known about how to diagnose and treat the clots than when they were first detected.

“The medical scientists and immunologists who developed these vaccines really did undergo such a rigorous process and the current vaccines are extensions of existing medicines and existing vaccines that we already had,” Ms Behardien O’Doherty says.

And “we also live in a society where we get access to doctors and medicine very quickly if need be,” Dr Stoupas adds.

Understand fears are normal

Ms Behardien O’Doherty says it’s important to acknowledge fears around the vaccine are normal and shouldn’t be all that surprising, given the speed of the global rollout and other subsequent teething issues.

Often, she says, those fears can be exacerbated by a lack of accurate information.

“A lot of people are hesitant about getting the sorts of vaccinations that are part of our regular, everyday lives, often because [people] don’t have really comprehensive understandings of what the vaccines actually do, how they work and potential things like side-effects,” she says.

“When we don’t take a person’s fears seriously they can get into quite a defensive state and that can widen the gap between what you’re trying to do, which is help them to overcome their fear and really try to open their mind to accept that vaccines are necessary and helpful.”

Talk about rolling up your own sleeve

For Liz Jones, a midwife in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, her choice to get a vaccine last week came after a conversation with a co-worker who had just gotten their shot.

The 38-year-old was previously hesitant about getting the vaccine until she felt there was enough information available to feel safe.

“I was on a night shift with another midwife and she had just received [the vaccine]. She said to me that the side effects of actually getting COVID and living with those long-term complications were worse than the risks of getting the vaccine,” she says. “Once she said that, it made complete sense to me.

“A particular woman in Byron Bay got COVID-19 and she is still suffering with the fatigue and the muscle aches and cramps. I already have fibromyalgia and that was a pretty scary thing to consider happening to me.”

Midwife Liz Jones says she was previously going to wait a bit longer before getting a vaccine

Source: Supplied.

Ms Jones says she believes “healthcare workers need to lead the way” in getting vaccinated.

“If I don’t start doing it, no one else is going to start doing it.”

Dr Stoupas says a greater uptake in the vaccine will serve to boost overall vaccine confidence.

“The more people you meet you have had the vaccine, the more comfortable you are going to be to get the vaccine.”

Encourage them to think bigger 

Widespread COVID-19 vaccination has been referred to as Australia’s ‘ticket out’ of the pandemic.

Greater take-up, authorities say, is likely to lead to fewer snap lockdowns and the reopening of borders, including international ones.

“A lot of people are using that concept of being vaccinated for travel whenever that bubble opens up for us again and we are allowed to go, they want to know that if they’re vaccinated they are much more likely to travel,” Dr Stoupas says.


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He says the recent lockdown in Melbourne has also encouraged more of his patients to get the vaccine.

“I had a fair few patients waiting to see if they could get access to the Pfizer vaccine … but once the lockdown happened, a lot of people were very keen and they were saying they would do the right thing and get it done,” he says.

Ms Jones says an approach that takes in the bigger picture resonates with her, and likely will others.

“We’re going to keep going into lockdowns, no one is going to be able to travel and we are going to keep ending up in the same place as we are now if we don’t all get immunised,” she says.