Mind Matters – Talking about vaccine hesitancy?

Local news reports show that Hounslow has been recording higher than average COVID infections whilst vaccine rates have been lagging, so “vaccine hesitancy” is something coming up in many conversations. It is only natural that many of these may feel uncomfortable – so I am being asked about how to approach these situations.

And of course it is really important that people do feel able to talk about something as important as this. Sometimes it’s because help is needed in reaching a decision whilst at other times relationships suffer if important subjects are avoided. What prevents conversations from occurring can be fear of judgement, anxiety, embarrassment or shame, worries about making things worse, wanting to avoid conflict, feeling ill equipped or possibly thinking something shouldn’t be talked about.

And there are a range of times where these conversations are occurring / not occurring and maybe should be. Maybe you do not want the vaccine but others do not agree with you? Maybe you had the first dose and do not want the second? Maybe you have had the vaccine but have someone talking to you about their hesitancy? Or maybe someone you know does not want the vaccine and you disagree with them? Finally, there is the likelihood that vaccinations may become available to children and so another range of possible conversations and conflicts, between parents, parents and their children, parents and other parents etc.

Being ready to have conversations

The first thing to think about are your own thoughts and feelings, bias if you will, around the facts regarding choice to have a vaccination, because as with any medical intervention, law exists around individual choice and consent. Knowing your bias is crucial in you being able to empathise and enabling good communication and by this I mean an exchange where all those involved feel able to speak openly.

Talking to someone who is struggling to decide

Knowing there is a conversation needed

Sometimes people will openly say they want help with something whilst at others they may struggle alone when having the chance to talk might provide help they didn’t even realise they needed. So wanting to help is both about being able to respond in a helpful way or spotting that someone might need help. For example, you spot that someone who would normally be talking about something to do with their health is strangely silent on the vaccine.

There’s a time and a place

The right time and place is one where both yourself and the person you are speaking with agree that you both feel able to have the conversation. Sometimes it’s about having enough time, sometimes it’s about being in the right place, sometimes it’s about there being other priorities. I like to think about this as the importance to talk about talking, to clear a way so that you both feel ready and relaxed to speak.

Bring a clear head

You need to be able to listen, question and contribute in order to be able to fully understand the other person’s hesitancy. Check your understanding with them as you go along, ask them to help you understand if they think you are not understanding, be prepared to say you feel confused when something does not make sense to you.

Facilitate their thinking

It is amazing how much power the question “what do you want to do about it?” can have. It is so easy to get stuck in thoughts that go round and round and that often means that you have reached an end point in that line of thinking. Realising that can be really helpful in finding new focus.

Offer to share your experience

Telling someone what you think is not always helpful but sometimes offering to share the way in which you reached your decision can be. The important thing here is that you think that doing so may be helpful and that they do want to hear.

Offer to keep putting your heads together

Sometimes it takes more than just one conversation to reach a decision so if you both think it might be helpful agree to finding another time and place to continue.

Impact on relationships

The most important thing to bring to conversations when you are speaking with someone when you disagree is ownership of your opinion. Depending upon the nature of the relationship you might want to explain your position, or it might be more useful to state your opinion, in either instance thinking about and being clear about consequences is important.

For example, you have a sibling who tells you they have now decided not to have the vaccination however you are hosting a family party, you have a close family with several generations present, one other older family member has already decided not to have the vaccination and you feel uncomfortable. Your relationship with your sibling can sometimes be a bit difficult and you suspect conflict will occur if you tell them they are wrong but if you don’t say anything you suspect you might end up arguing.

So what can be helpful is the following:

  1. State the facts

For example, you are the only one coming apart from Grandfather who has not had the vaccine

  1. Say how you feel

For example, “I am feeling anxious and annoyed”

  1. What you think

We already knew Grandfather wouldn’t be vaccinated but on the basis that everyone else was then I was happy to have the party. I’ve been thinking about what if you get ill, or Grandfather gets ill and I cannot stop thinking about this. And I feel annoyed because this is something else I have to spend time thinking about.

  1. What you would like to happen

For example, “If you are now not going to be vaccinated then I want us to minimise any risks. I suggest you come but always remain outdoors and also wear a mask if within two meters of Grandfather”.

5. Consider any response based upon whether your anxiety and annoyance is alleviated. If not repeat 2, 3 and 4 as necessary.

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach

UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.


Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose

Read the next in the series – Mind Matters – Being able to talk about trauma

Read the previous one – Mind Matters – Recognise your vulnerability to stress

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

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