Tips for Talking about Vaccination

Every person who chooses to get vaccinated brings us all a step closer to moving past the COVID-19 pandemic. As a trusted messenger to your family and friends, you can play a role in their decision to vaccinate.  Below are tips for talking to friends and family along with strategies to address common hesitations.

Keep the conversation positive

Conversations tend to skew toward anger when negativity enters the picture. When talking about the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s important to focus on the positive. Talk through your own reasons for being vaccinated—and your experience with the process. Don't focus on myths.  Instead acknowledge any misinformation and share facts.  Avoid arguing. If the conversation spins toward disagreement, it’s probably better to walk away.

Listen with Empathy
Listen to their questions with empathy 

COVID-19 vaccines are new, and it’s normal for people to have questions about them. The sheer amount of information—and misinformation—about COVID-19 vaccines can be overwhelming to anyone. You can help by listening without judgment and identifying the root of their concerns. Make sure not to cut off, speak over or jump into correcting your loved one. Listen to the person you are talking to and meet them where they are. 

Acknowledge their emotions so they know they have been heard. For example, you can say, “It sounds like you are stressed at work and home, and concerns about the vaccine are another source of stress. That’s really tough.”

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Ask open-ended questions to explore their concerns 

Open-ended questions are meant to get more than a yes-or-no answer.  Asking open-ended questions can help you understand what your friend or family member is worried about, where they learned any troubling information, and what they have done to get answers to their questions. For example, you can ask, “How did watching that news report make you feel? What did you do next?”

Do not be judgmental and respectfully ask questions that help you understand their concerns. For example, avoid things like, “That’s a silly concern,” or “Why would you be worried about that?”  

Strategies for addressing common hesitancies are listed below. 

Share Trusted Information

Ask permission to share information 

Once you understand your friend or family member’s question or concern, ask if you can provide some information, tell them where you get information you trust and be careful not to push information on them. You can find answers to common questions from reputable sources, including the CDC, the FDA, Oregon Health Authority, Lane County Public Health, or other trusted sources such as their doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.   

Sometimes, sharing quick, accurate answers to common concerns your family or friends might have can go a long way toward moving someone from worry to confidence. If you don’t know the answer to their questions, consider offering to help look for information.

Explore Reasons for getting Vaccinated

Help them find their own reason to get vaccinated

Everyone who chooses to get vaccinated does it for a reason—to protect their family, to protect their children, to be less anxious, to visit their parents, or to get back to activities like seeing friends, resuming work, or returning to school. After addressing concerns with empathy, respect and facts, you can steer the conversation from “why not” to the important reasons that matter to them—their “why.” You may choose to share your reasons for getting vaccinated or discuss common goals you may have, like visiting with each other safely. The reasons that someone may choose to get vaccinated will always be those that are most compelling to them personally.

Help make their vaccination happen

Once someone decides on their “why,” help them make a commitment to get vaccinated. Help make the path to vaccination shorter, easier, and less stressful for them. Offer to help your family member or friend make a vaccination appointment at a location nearby and, if needed, go with them to the appointment. Offer to help with transportation or to babysit if they need childcare. 

Don't get discouraged

Convincing someone who is opposed to vaccines may be a long process. Remember that for those who are strongly opposed to vaccines in general, their opinions will not likely be changed in one conversation. The important thing is to maintain a connection with them.
Remember, every person who chooses to get vaccinated brings us all a step closer to moving past the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a trusted messenger to your family and friends, you can play a role in their decision to vaccinate.


HESITATION: I plan to wait and see if the vaccine is safe and may get it later.

Everyone wants to be sure that they are as safe and healthy as possible. As of May 2021, more than 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. Public health agencies have been watching closely for any safety signals. We have safety data going back as far as August 2020, when Pfizer and Moderna first began vaccinating Phase 3 clinical trial participants. Based on the many vaccines administered already, we can feel confident that the vaccine has a really good safety record. 

The reality is that not getting vaccinated puts you at much higher risk of severe COVID-19, which can make you seriously sick for a long period of time and possibly cause lasting damage. Getting vaccinated sooner can protect you from these risks.

Interpersonal Insights
People often relate strongly to the experiences of those around them, so share that you have been vaccinated with friends and family; seeing others whom they trust and respect having made the decision to get vaccinated might help them feel more comfortable. And perhaps share your own decision-making process and why you decided to go ahead and get the shot(s)!

HESITATION: I am concerned about possible side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s understandable to worry about not feeling well. It’s important to know that side effects from vaccines are short-lived and not harmful—unlike COVID-19, which can cause serious illness and lasting damage.

Some people feel a bit out of sorts for a day or two after getting vaccinated. The most common side effect is soreness at the site of injection. Other effects might include fatigue, headache, muscle aches, chills, joint pain, and possibly some fever. These side effects may start within a few hours of receiving the vaccine but usually last just 24 to 48 hours and no more than a few days. 

Side effects are more frequent after the second dose, so, if possible, plan to get the second dose the day before a day off from work, or try to postpone things for a few days.  You can offer them support for the days they might not feel well like childcare or providing meals.

Interpersonal Insights
Again, share your experiences with friends and family. And be honest—if you had short-term side effects, mention those so that others aren’t caught off guard if they experience fever or tiredness themselves. Plus, knowing what to expect can help them plan accordingly and arrange for an easier day or two after their vaccination if possible. But you can also reassure them and reinforce the fundamental message that a day or so of anticipated side effects is much easier to deal with than COVID-19 itself.

HESITATION: I don’t believe I need a COVID-19 vaccine.

Even if you are young and healthy and practice COVID-19 precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it’s important to get vaccinated.

As more and more people are vaccinated, the virus will have fewer people to infect, and community transmission will go down. This reduces the opportunity for new and stronger variants to appear.  This means we can start to get back to “normal” quicker. Every person that gets vaccinated brings us one step closer to ending the pandemic.

It’s also important to note that even if you have already had COVID-19, you still need to get vaccinated. That’s because the immunity you can get after having COVID-19 may not be as strong or long-lasting as the protection you can get from a vaccine.

Some people may also be persuaded by the added convenience of being vaccinated. You may not have to quarantine if you’ve been exposed to someone who you later found out was infected with COVID-19. And, if you might end up traveling someplace that requires a vaccine, that will already be taken care of. Plus, at the end of the day, you will be protected against the disease, so you won’t have to worry about getting other people sick or causing them to need to quarantine by accident.

Interpersonal Insights
Throughout the pandemic it has been important to consider how our actions impact ourselves, our families, and our communities. Vaccination is no different.

You can remind loved ones that they play a role in helping the world get to herd immunity. Getting vaccinated is a personal choice that will help all of us—including infants, children, and people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons—and also help reduce the opportunity for variants to emerge.

HESITATION: If people are still catching COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated and I still have to wear a mask, what’s the point?

Everyone wants to get back to normal as soon as possible. COVID-19 vaccines do a great job of preventing serious illness. Although rare breakthrough cases do occur because there is still a lot of illness in the community, these are not frequent and usually not severe. Getting vaccinated can help reduce levels of illness in the community, protect people from becoming seriously ill, and lower the likelihood that a new variant of the virus will emerge.

Interpersonal Insights
We are at a tricky point in the pandemic, with restrictions loosening somewhat for vaccinated people (e.g., new guidance from the CDC around outdoor mask wearing). So, we are seeing some situations in which vaccinated people can start to get back to normal, whether that’s not wearing a mask when outdoors or going to eat indoors at a restaurant.

However, vaccine uptake is still not widespread enough and rates of disease are still high enough in many areas that we can’t fully relax the guidelines and restrictions. That’s where we need a team approach to get enough people vaccinated to really start seeing decreases in community transmission.

HESITATION: I am concerned about having an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine.

A lot more is known now about the extremely rare allergic reactions that occurred early on in the vaccination rollout. Safety monitoring has shown that people who have had a severe allergic reaction to polyethylene glycol, one ingredient in the vaccine, should be concerned about an allergic reaction. People with a history of this particular allergy should consult their doctor before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

People with severe allergies to foods, certain oral medications, latex, bee stings, or venom can safely receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Interpersonal Insights
These rare situations where someone should not get the vaccine, on the advice of their medical provider, should motivate the rest of us to get vaccinated! Infectious diseases such as COVID-19 remind us that we are all connected, and the more each of us can do to help limit the spread of disease, the safer we will all be.

HESITATION: I don’t trust COVID-19 vaccines.

We all agree that we need to trust that vaccines are safe. All of the required regulatory steps—including safety and efficacy—were taken to produce these vaccines; they just happened in a condensed period of time because we were in a pandemic.

The technology used to build mRNA vaccines (like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s) has been around for more than a decade. Researchers have been working with this technology to produce vaccines for a number of other viruses like influenza and rabies, but those hadn’t gone through Phase 3 clinical trials yet, simply because there wasn’t the urgent need or the funding to continue development. With COVID-19, researchers were able to leverage technology that had been in the works for years.

Interpersonal Insights
Personal experiences and perspectives can be so important. Tell your friends and neighbors (and acquaintances!) how you made the decision to get the vaccine—what data did you look at, which sites did you trust and learn from? Conveying your own investigations, questions, and learning can help those you are talking with understand the data and science too, and hear it from a trusted source (you!).

Finally, many prominent figures like former presidents, pro athletes and celebrities, and religious leaders are openly talking about their confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, sharing their own vaccination process, and encouraging others to get the jab.

HESITATION: I don’t have health insurance. What if I can’t afford a COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge and no insurance is required.

You cannot be billed for vaccination. If you do receive a bill, you should first speak to the person or facility that sent a bill. If they don’t cancel it, contact the HHS Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or visit TIPS.HHS.GOV to file a complaint.

Interpersonal Insights
Ask your friends and neighbors what their own personal barriers are to vaccination: Is it access? Safety concerns? Transportation? Concerns about the cost? Asking explicitly can help you connect them with resources—or even a ride—to help them overcome those barriers.