How to talk to a loved one with vaccine hesitancy: VCU assistant professor says ‘use empathy and humanity’


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — While many Virginians have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, many are still hesitant to register to get their shot. Family members can be put into situations where they feel they have to help convince their relative to get the vaccine and gently combat the skepticism or fear.

Dr. Jeanine Guidry, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Public Relations and the Director of Media and Health Lab at VCU. She said conversations involving vaccine hesitancy can be delicate and need to have a foundation of empathy and listening.

Topic #1: Why should we get the vaccine? What are the benefits?

“The past year, we have all been in this situation where all of our lives have been in a certain level of disarray,” Guidry said. “We have had high levels of mortality from people dying from this disease [COVID-19], and people are wondering when we will return to normal. Your answer is in the vaccine.”

She said, in order to get to a level of ‘normalcy’ again, we must choose to get vaccinated.

“The vaccine is the best way to protect us and protect the ones we love,” Guidry said.

Topic #2: If someone has a friend or family member with vaccine hesitancy, how should they handle the situation? Should they approach a conversation or avoid them altogether?

“I wouldn’t avoid it. The most important starting point is having a conversation. If this is someone you love and care about, it puts you in a unique situation to acknowledge their fear,” Guidry said. “People don’t choose not to be vaccinated because they don’t want to protect their families, they choose to not vaccinate because they are concerned there may be an issue, they want to do the right thing.”

She said the key is to find out why they are hesitant or afraid.

“Is it because they think the vaccine has been developed too quickly? Is it because they don’t think COVID is a big deal? Or is it because Bill Gates is going to ‘put a chip in your arm?‘ All of those things can be addressed. Find out first, what their biggest concern is,” Guidry said.

Topic #3: How should someone handle a situation if their loved one refuses to get the vaccine and they do not feel safe to be around them?

“Acknowledge that it is normal to have concerns. We have all been living in these unprecedented circumstances together,” Guidry said. “If you have received both doses, you are largely protected. The person who is not vaccinated runs a greater risk. Communicate and let them know you want them to be safe, too. Take proper precautions. I think that is the way to approach it.”

She said let them know that the conversation is happening because you care about your loved one.

“Don’t have these conversations on social media. Have it in a private chat,” Guidry said. “And keep in mind that you are safe if you are vaccinated, just express your concern for the other person.”

She said a big part of understanding someone else is bringing yourself to a good level of humanity and listening through a place of empathy.

“This has been a really rough year. The goal of the vaccine isn’t to add to that stress. It is to get us out of that,” Guidry said.

Topic #4: What if someone is believing common myths that are not evidence-based? Is there anything we can say to direct them to the truth?

“Direct them to reliable sources. The CDC, the World Health Organization, your local health organizations. Those are the reliable sources to get your information,” Guidry said. “Some people may say those sources are not reliable, but you may be able to be the reliable translator of that information they can trust.”

She said find a source the person you are talking to can relate to.

“Pope Francis has endorsed the vaccine. If you are Catholic, that is a big deal. Find a source the person you are talking to that they can get on board with,” Guidry said. “It isn’t all about facts. A lot of this is about feelings. That is important to remember.”

She said most of the misinformation that we see comes from online sources like social media.

“Before you jump to conclusions, take a step back and go to some reliable sources and don’t immediately share it,” Guidry said. “Ask yourself, does this actually make sense?”

Watch the full 8News interview with Dr. Guidry to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.

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