How to Talk With People Who Are Still Hesitant to Get a COVID Vaccine

Principles of motivational interviewing and attunement can help in having these conversations


Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels

How can you best encourage your friend, family member, or coworker to get vaccinated against COVID19 when they’re still reluctant? You know the facts are on your side. The virus has killed over 600,000 Americans, and we in America have readily available vaccines that are safe and effective. Getting vaccinated protects you and the people around you from hospitalization and death. The vast majority of people being hospitalized and dying from COVID in America now are the unvaccinated. But no matter how many facts you cite, your friend or relative seems unconvinced, and even tunes you out as you continue to make your pitch. You may feel tempted to throw your hands up and walk away…but given the stakes involved, you don’t want to give up. What can you do?

Some people are absolutely dead set against vaccines, and are convinced that the vaccines are being foisted on us as part of some conspiracy — people in this group are very unlikely to ever get vaccinated. But then there are people who aren’t completely against vaccines, but have a lot of questions and concerns, which is making them delay getting it. A recent New York Times article describes the challenges of convincing people in that second group to get vaccinated, regardless of the facts and science supporting vaccination. In June, Dr. Anthony Fauci spent time talking with vaccine hesitant people on their front porches in Newark, NJ in June, but only persuaded a few to get a dose. “If a celebrity doctor is struggling to change people’s minds, what chance do we have?” asks the NY Times reporter, Jonathan Wolfe.

In a search for alternate strategies, Wolfe next spoke with Dr. Arnaud Gagneur, a neonatologist who developed a successful method of speaking with mothers who were hesitant to get their children vaccinated in pre-pandemic times. Dr. Gagneur’s method is based on motivational interviewing, an approach that emphasizes rapport building, and balances listening with talking. When using motivational interviewing, you avoid starting with an argument or lecture on the benefits of vaccination. Instead, you start by asking the other person what they think…



Ashley Pallathra and Edward Brodkin

Co-authors of the new book “Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections.” Twitter: @ashleypallathra @tedbrodkin