5 tips for talking about COVID-19 vaccines with loved ones

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Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available to all Tennesseans ages 16 and up, people are frequently discussing the decision to get one.

That can bring up questions and strong emotions, says Dr. Judith Overton, a psychiatrist and medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. But what’s the best way to approach conversations about the vaccine?

“The most helpful thing people can do is listen to others in an open, supportive way,” says Dr. Overton. “Don’t put people on the spot. Instead, create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their feelings. Everyone has the opportunity to learn something right now, especially if you’re an open listener.”

How to talk about the COVID-19 vaccine

1. Get the facts

Dr. Overton: Many people are concerned about how quickly this vaccine was created, and it’s fair to be curious. This is the fastest turnaround we’ve ever had for a vaccine, but no corners have been cut. Every vaccine being given went through the same testing as a typical vaccine.

What’s different here is that the government and industry shortened the manufacturing process. Instead of waiting for the end of the clinical trials to start production, it all happened simultaneously, to get vaccines to people faster. But distribution never started until all trials were completed and regulatory agencies gave emergency authorization.

Here are a few good resources where you can learn more:

2. Consider your goal

Dr. Overton: Before discussing the vaccine with someone, ask yourself: What is my goal? Voicing strong opinions — for or against the vaccine — will probably lead people to shut down.

Think about it this way: The last time you learned something new or your mind was changed, did that conversation start by someone making you feel small? Or by calling you names? No. You thought through the issues, you considered other viewpoints and you came around to a different perspective.

It’s frustrating when you’re talking to a person who is impatient or judging you. Most of the time you can’t change someone’s mind in one talk. So just try to listen, and make people feel heard.

Related: NPR: Talking with people who are hesitant about the vaccine.

3. Assume good intentions & find common ground

Dr. Overton: Everyone’s going to have to make informed decisions about what’s best for their own health. In this situation in particular, it’s important to assume that everyone is doing the best they can for their family’s health.

There may be health situations people don’t want to disclose as to why they’re not taking the vaccine. There may also be people who want to be vaccinated but can’t get it yet. We need to be sensitive to that. You can have different opinions and both be correct. And you can always find common ground. Maybe you both have children, or you both have parents who live in a long-term care facility. Focus on what makes you alike, not what makes you different.

4. Know that vaccination experiences vary

Dr. Overton: For me, it’s been helpful to hear about other people’s experience getting the vaccine. My mother and my husband, for example, had no side effects, and I was sure I would breeze right through. But I got the Pfizer vaccine at 8:30 a.m. on a workday, and by that afternoon, I had a lot of fatigue, which surprised me. The vaccine benefits far outweigh that small inconvenience, of course, but I’d probably do it later in the day knowing how it affects me.

I think sharing stories like that between our trusted networks of friends, family and coworkers is important. This is a historic undertaking, and it’s good to hear what everyone’s experience has been like.

Related: Dr. Kelly Askins recommends writing down your experiences in 5 tips for parenting during difficult times such as COVID-19.

BlueCross employees share their experiences getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

5. Don’t let your guard down

Dr. Overton: At this point in the pandemic, we are all weary. Everyone’s tired of being inside so much and giving up fun activities. It’s tempting to just say, ‘Well, I’ve been okay this far, I’ll probably do okay even if I get sick with COVID-19.’

But that’s not the best thing to do. We still don’t know a lot about the long-term health effects of getting COVID-19, even if you get it and recover from it. The safest course of action is to keep doing what we’re doing and get vaccinated when you can.

More on COVID-19

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

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Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).