How to talk to vaccine doubters: 5 tips for parent 'ambassadors'
This past summer, Rupali Limaye says she "sort of became the vaccine lady at the pool."
She's a behavioral and social scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, so it made sense that other parents were coming to her for information. Limaye has also spent the past decade studying vaccine hesitancy. In that work, she has come to understand deeply that when someone has doubts, hearing the facts from someone the person knows well can be a powerful force in overcoming those doubts.
She knows, too, that not all families have that kind of relationship with a doctor. "We've had such an erosion of trust in the health care system and in public health," she says "that we should really leverage the peer-to-peer approach, right?"
So Limaye and Johns Hopkins have created a free two-hour course on the online platform Coursera that's open to anyone. It's called COVID Vaccine Ambassador Training: How to Talk to Parents.
Their goal is to prepare everyone, from principals to PTA presidents, to counter misinformation with empathy and, ultimately, to move more people to seek out the lifesaving vaccine. As of Jan. 18, just 28% of children ages 5 to 11 had received even one COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Here are Limaye's top evidence-based steps for having a conversation with someone who isn't sure about vaccines:
"While I can explain how there is no microchip in the vaccine," Limaye says, "it's really important for me to be able to listen and be empathetic instead of being dismissive."
If someone states a false belief, you can, again, validate them by acknowledging that it's hard to make our way through the disinformation landscape. Then pivot to the truth, says Limaye: " 'I understand that there's a lot of information out there, and it's really hard to discern what is true and what is not true. Let me tell you what I know.' "
What's happening there, Limaye says, is that "I'm pivoting the conversation slightly to sort of be like, 'OK, here's how the vaccine was made, which means there actually is no microchip in the vaccine.' "
When it comes to the facts, be clear and simple. Repetition is your friend. Try telling a personal story that underlines the real risks of the coronavirus and how those risks outweigh the risks of the vaccine. And ask permission before directing people to trusted resources where they can learn more.
Limaye knows these conversations won't be quick or simple. But at a time of extreme polarization, she hopes people are empowered to try becoming an "ambassador" for empathy.
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