William Schaffner, MD
The results of Khubchandani and colleagues’ survey on the hesitation of the COVID-19 vaccine confirms the anecdotal experience of many of us in clinical practice. Their results also fit well with data recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The question is how do we respond to this hesitation when we encounter it in clinical practice?
While there is only a small fraction of people who are against vaccines in the US, there is a large group of people who have questions and concerns and therefore need information and confirmation before deciding to vaccinate. We need to recognize that this discussion can take some time and we need to take patient questions and concerns as valid.
Psychologists tell us that if we return patient concerns to them, we can help calm those who are afraid. If you tell someone that their beliefs are wrong, it will cause most of the people to double up on their beliefs. Instead, ask these patients about their concerns so they know they have been heard, respected, and may be ready to hear new messages.
Simply providing data may not be best, depending on the circumstances. While facts are important, they don’t always change behavior. If we ask about patients’ attitudes towards vaccination, we can help the patient feel more comfortable and calm. Then it is more likely that behavior will change. For example, consider a confirmatory statement like, “You are concerned that the vaccine may not be safe. We hear that very much. “Then emphasize the positive:” The vaccine has been tested in multiple clinical trials, each involving thousands of people. “Personalize it:” I got the vaccine; Everyone here in our workforce has been vaccinated. “We can also explain how getting a vaccination will help protect your family and friends. Recast the idea that individuals do something for others, not just for themselves.
We can’t expect people to change their minds right away – we have to give people permission to think about it. With the influenza vaccine, I will push my patients and make the annual flu shot the norm. With the COVID-19 vaccines, the circumstances are different. Since these are new vaccines, we need to give patients time to think about: “We’re always here to help. You can come back anytime to get the vaccine. “(We hope this will come true very soon.)
Hamel L. et al. Vaccine monitor KFF COVID-19: December 2020. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/report/kff-covid-19-vaccine-monitor-december-2020/. Accessed January 11, 2021.
William Schaffner, MD
Member of the editorial team for infectious diseases
Medical Director of the National Infectious Diseases Foundation
Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Disclosure: Schaffner does not report any relevant financial information.