Auburn University Emeritus Professor: Kind conversation best medicine for vaccine hesitancy

Coronavirus

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Treating vaccine hesitancy with care and compassion may be what the doctor ordered. An Auburn University Emeritus Professor, who’s dedicated his professional life to improving treatment goals for patients, believes COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is best addressed through compassionate conversations between healthcare providers and those who worry about getting the shot.

 Dr. Bruce Berger is a retired pharmacist and educator who is passionate about helping health care providers communicate effectively with the families they care for in a medical setting. Dr. Berger teachers a conversation technique called motivational interviewing, and Dr. Berger says the trust-building process is critical in saving lives.

“Right now, from what I’ve seen, almost 50% of the population is vaccine-hesitant and considering to reach herd immunity it’s 80% vaccinated, we have to improve on that 50%,” said Dr. Berger.

Dr. Berger believes there are three main concerns a person has that make them reluctant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine:

  1. They worry the vaccine will give them the virus.
  2. They worry the vaccine was rushed, and long-term impacts are unknown.
  3. They are confused about how the vaccine works to help the body build immunity and fear it will alter DNA.

Dr. Berger says these concerns are best addressed with a compassionate exchange of ideas between patients and healthcare providers. Conversations rooted in respect lead to long-term relationships where patients feel comfortable sharing concerns and feel a trusted partnership with their healthcare provider.

“We have to honor and respect how the patient came to those decisions, and we have got to make it safe for them to tell us about what their reluctance is and what their concerns are. Rather than saying you can’t get Covid from this, which puts them down in a sense, we need to be able to stay, you’re worried about getting COVID, and that’s making you reluctant to get the vaccine. Can we talk more about that,” said Dr. Berger.

In December, Dr. Berger wrote an article about why it’s essential to have a conversation not focused on convincing someone to get vaccinated but rather focused on compassionately listening to concerns of the patient: Using Care and Compassion to Respond to Vaccine Hesitancy

“Rather than beat them over the head with education, we ask would you mind if I share some thoughts with you on that and tell me what you think? We have found that two minutes of motivational interviewing is more effective than thirty minutes of the paternalistic approach. We also knew from research when people felt listened to and heard, they are far more open for new information that may alleviate their concerns,” said Dr. Berger. 

Dr. Berger says motivational interviewing can also be used as a tool when discussing the vaccine with your family and friends. The conversation should not be about convincing a person they are wrong, which can hurt feelings and lead to a fight. Instead, focus on sharing individual concerns and respectfully discussing them. If needed, invite a healthcare professional to guide the conversation. 

Dr. Berger says conversations about vaccines or really any topic that may seem controversial to some that lead to confrontation rarely work. Dr. Berger says kindness is really the best medicine when confronting COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and other healthcare concerns.

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