This information was reviewed and approved by Gabriel C. Lockhart, MD (July 2021).
The decision to get vaccinated or not is shaped by personal beliefs, values, emotions, identities and life experiences. Sometimes, the hesitancy is driven by mistrust of the government or medical system, or financial loss and restrictions. The most effective way to help people in the decision-making process is to build trust, answer questions and inspire hope. Use the following suggestions to guide your conversations.
To build trust while calming fear and anxiety, use a friendly tone and acknowledge that questions about the vaccine are normal and understandable.
Answer questions with as straightforward as you can with respect, transparency, integrity and honesty. Do not overwhelm them by providing too many details, too much information or adding in emotions.
Help vaccine hesitant people find the connection between getting vaccinated and being able to experience normal activities that were lost during the pandemic: hugging, sharing meals, seeing family and friends.
Remember, most people who are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine are exposed to an overabundance of information but are interested in finding out what information is reliable and accurate or not. Your job is not to convince them to get vaccinated, but rather be a trusted source of quality information so they can make an informed decision.
Reasons that someone may be hesitant to get the vaccine are often personal. Approach people from a place of love, respect and support so they know that you want to understand their concerns. For example, “I would like to understand the reason you are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Is there something specific right now that’s making you hesitate?”
Be a good listener so you understand what the other person is saying. Reflect back what they are saying and ask clarifying questions in a calm, friendly and respectful way.
Confirm that you understand the reasons they provide and then ask if they want to hear another viewpoint. If they are open, then calmly provide them information from reliable sources in a meaningful and helpful way.
Explain the concerns you had and how you overcame them, and what your experience was with getting the shot. People trust others who are within their circle of family and friends.
Some of the reasons people may be hesitant to get the vaccine may include concerns about: the fast development, long- and short-term safety, side effects, misinformation, not understanding the science, distrust of government and health care entities or other issues. Research these topics.
The U.S. has 20+ years of experience with the mRNA vaccine technology. It has been studied in chemotherapies as well as vaccines for flu, rabies and the Zika virus. Due to the global pandemic, efforts all around the world were focused on developing a vaccine using the existing mRNA technology instead of starting from scratch. Think of it as a construction company tasked to build a skyscraper that normally takes a long time to build. When multiple construction companies are suddenly asked to pivot their existing infrastructure to all work on the same skyscraper, this happens a lot faster than what is typical.
The mRNA vaccines DO NOT affect or change your DNA at all. This vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that only tells the immune system to create antibodies against the COVID-19 virus. This code is then destroyed after helping your body create the antibodies.
No, none of the currently approved vaccines contain any live virus, so you can’t get the disease from the vaccine.
A vaccine for COVID-19 became the world’s hope to slow and end the pandemic. So, with the entire world watching closely, especially organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), every step of vaccine development was closely monitored and highly scrutinized. No shortcuts were taken during any part of the process and the FDA and CDC have ongoing monitoring to ensure safety and efficacy persists.
Clinical trials for these vaccines were under the most stringent standards and worldwide monitoring to ensure safety and effectiveness. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial included over 43,000 participants. Eight of the vaccine group and 162 of the placebo group developed COVID-19. Likewise, in the Moderna vaccine trial, five participants in the vaccine group and 90 in the placebo group developed COVID-19, out of the more than 30,000 in the trial. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial had about 44,000 participants with 116 COVID cases in the vaccine group and 348 in the placebo group. The efficacy in these trials far surpassed the initial goals, even more effective than typical influenza vaccines.
The FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization to the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines because they proved to be at least 50% more effective than the placebo in preventing COVID-19, which is the goal of any vaccine the FDA reviews.
Vaccines for COVID-19 have the same common side effects as other vaccines – soreness at the injection site, mild, flu-like symptoms, feeling tired, low fever, headache or body ache. Some people report having more pronounced side effects after their second dose of the mRNA vaccines. It may be a good idea to plan the second dose around having the subsequent day off from work.
An allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine is very rare. Only two to five people out of 1 million vaccinated had this reaction. These reactions happened within 30 minutes of getting the shot. Even with this rare situation, the cautious approach is taken, with people asked to stay where they were vaccinated for 15 to 30 minutes to watch for a reaction.
Out of the 6.8 million doses of this vaccine that were administered, six cases developed blood clots and there was one death. Erring on the side of extreme caution, the FDA paused the use of the vaccine while reviewing the data and concluding that the risk of blood clots was extremely rare. The pause was an example of the ongoing FDA and CDC surveillance of these vaccines to ensure its safety. This is a good thing.
Historically, the U.S. acknowledges many examples where black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have suffered from worse medical outcomes due to conscious and unconscious biases. The aim is to guard against such injustices going forward. In the COVID-19 vaccine trials mentioned above, racial and ethnic backgrounds were well-represented in the distribution of people tested as well as in the outcomes showing great results. This matters especially when BIPOC populations have suffered disproportionately greater losses in severe COVID-19 disease than white populations.
Pregnant women were excluded from initial trials, which is typical for these circumstances. However, given the 20+ years of prior experience with mRNA technology and the combination of confidence in vaccine safety and concern for significantly increased risk of bad outcomes among pregnant women who contract the virus, the respected medical organizations of The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists each released statements encouraging pregnant women to consider getting the vaccine, and enrolling in further studies and ongoing monitoring.
Breastfeeding mothers who are vaccinated can continue breastfeeding. Antibodies against COVID-19 can be found in breast milk, which is safe for babies, though it is not clear if this provides added protection against COVID-19 disease for these babies.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 or any other vaccine cause fertility problems.
Even if you already were diagnosed and treated for COVID-19, it’s still important to get the vaccine. Scientists and doctors are still collecting data to determine how long protection lasts after having the disease or getting the vaccine. The vaccine has proven effective at protecting against developing severe disease.
Share and suggest only well-known and credible resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, National Jewish Health and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
How to get the vaccine in Colorado:
The currently available vaccines for COVID-19 have proven over and over to be safe and effective at preventing serious, life-threatening disease. Without the vaccine and the majority of the population getting vaccinated, we would not be able to get back to doing the activities you love while not wearing masks. This enables you to safely see family across the nation, hug and share a meal without fear of consequence. The vaccine ensures that you don’t miss work and can provide for your family. This is how you protect yourself, your family, and your community.
It can take people weeks to months to do their research on the COVID-19 vaccine. Give them time and let them know you are available to help them research.
If you ask the person if there is anything that might change their mind about getting the vaccine and you are told “absolutely not” then, it is okay to agree to disagree.
Source: Colorado Health Foundation
Gabriel C. Lockhart, MD, is a critical care pulmonologist at National Jewish Health and director of the Intensive Care Unit at National Jewish Health ǀ Saint Joseph Hospital. Dr. Lockhart has also worked as part of the medical advisory group for the Colorado Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee to address the pandemic in Colorado.
Learn more about COVID-19 and how it affects specific health conditions in these printable patient education materials.
Download COVID-19 Materials