How to talk to your unvaccinated loved ones about the COVID vaccine: ‘Lead with compassion’

Editor’s note: This story is part of a package of a larger story on what is inspiring local people to get the COVID-19 vaccine now. Go here for the full story.

Arianna Galligher, a licensed independent social worker, said it’s possible for people, even now, to come around to getting the coronavirus vaccine and she’s seen it happen.

As part of her work as the associate director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience Recovery Center at the Ohio State Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, she regularly has conversations with people about the vaccine.

Galligher said people can change their minds, but you shouldn’t try to argue or force them.

“If the sole purpose of the conversation is to try to change someone’s mind, you’re probably going about it the wrong way,” she said. “Lead with compassion … Rather than approaching the conversation with all of your facts and figures and your very strongly held beliefs, approach someone who’s unvaccinated with a stance of benign curiosity. Say, ‘Help me understand what’s getting in the way’ or ‘what are you nervous about?’”

Try to set aside disparaging attitudes and preconceived notions about why somebody might delay getting vaccinated, Galligher said. Many people have valid fears, so you should seek to understand and kindly address their concerns, she said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

And if the person you’re speaking with brings up a concern that is false, possibly stemming from misinformation (like the vaccine contains a microchip or causes infertility), address it head on but without shaming them.

“Say, ‘I heard something like that, too, but then I looked more into it and here’s what I found out about it,’ and maybe offer to forward that information on with the references,” Galligher said. “And there’s a way to do it without implying that the other person is bad or wrong for thinking something else.”

Tell your story

Galligher and other experts also recommend sharing your reasons for getting the vaccine and being honest about your experience. It’s their decision to make, with their doctor.

“We ask that our local community leaders share their stories as to why they are vaccinated, and that vaccination will help lessen the severity of COVID-19 disease,” said Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health–Dayton & Montgomery County.

Most Ohioans are vaccinated, Suffoletto said, and if those people share with their relatives, friends and acquaintances why they got the shot, that can be powerful.

“The vaccine skeptics and the misinformation network have been doing this sort of personal communication on social media and elsewhere all along,” he said. “If the larger number of vaccinated individuals let people know why they got vaccinated, it can increase the number of individuals getting COVID vaccines.”


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