Social Graces: Here’s what to say to loved ones who don’t want the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine

·4 min read

Q: A loved one doesn’t want to get the second shot of the coronavirus vaccine. How should you handle the situation?

A: Talking with loved ones about the vaccine can be tricky. If you plan to discuss it with them, approach the conversation with openness and curiosity. This is a great time to practice your active listening skills, meaning you’re focused on the speaker. Avoid interrupting or redirecting the conversation unless it’s extremely urgent.

You must set aside your judgment so they feel comfortable sharing information because this is an especially sensitive topic. Start by asking open-ended questions to better understand their fears and misperceptions. Follow up with identifying shared beliefs, like being fully vaccinated for the good of their community or being able to get back to normalcy quicker. This creates an environment that fosters unity and encourages healthy discussion about the benefits of being fully vaccinated.

You can say phrases like:

“That’s a great point. I can understand why that could give you fear or anxiety about the vaccine. Could I share some new information that I believe will help you feel more comfortable?”

“I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’m curious if you’ve ever thought about it this way …”

“Can you tell me more about your concerns surrounding the vaccine? I would love to understand your perspective.”

Once you’ve created an environment of trust, encourage them to write down their concerns and address them with their physicians.

However, the conversation may not go the way you want, and they may choose to not receive the second dose of the vaccine. Remember that your loved ones are entitled to their own opinions about the vaccine. This is a rare occasion when the entire world experienced trauma and everyone handles it differently. If you feel the need to, in order to protect your own health and safety, you can set boundaries around how you visit with loved ones who aren’t fully vaccinated.

Etiquette during COVID-19 isn’t just about being kind and respectful; it’s also about being considerate of everyone’s health and safety, including yours. Be empathetic and refrain from being hypercritical of others as we are all adapting to this new normal, especially since everyone has varying degrees of precautionary measures when it comes to their health and safety.

— Bonnie Tsai, etiquette expert and founder of Beyond Etiquette

A: The first thing I would say is get curious about the reason why. It can be so easy for us to jump to conclusions and fill in our own reasons. A lot of us engage in what we call mind reading, and we assume we know what someone else is thinking. But we don’t actually know what someone is thinking until we ask.

Coming from a nonjudgmental stance can be hard, especially with anything related to COVID-19. But when we come at it from that approach, hopefully your loved ones won’t be defensive and can give an honest answer. Based on that response, we can do our part to provide some education, provide some resources and really come at it from a logical lens, rather than an emotional one. When we come at it from an emotional lens, we’re no longer thinking in what we call our prefrontal cortex of the brain and the logical brain. We’re getting into that emotion part of the brain, where we don’t always make the best decisions. So coming at it from that logical lens, and trying to really show the person the facts behind why it’s helpful to get fully vaccinated, then we can start to hopefully show some of their biases.

Because we care about our loved ones, it becomes really easy for us to take it personally when someone doesn’t get fully vaccinated. At the end of the day, most human beings, unless they’re minors or in an exceptional situation, are in control of their lives and the choices that they make with their bodies. This can be really hard to sit with, especially when you feel that getting the vaccine would be a good way to protect yourself. The less we can personalize, the more we can protect our own emotional welfare in that process.

— Lauren Cook, therapist and author of “Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health While Embracing Wellness”

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