Responding to

“Your doubts are generated by fear,
and fear is a series of distorted thoughts."

Leandra Medine
Beginning today, all New Mexicans, age 16 and older, are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, as the state opens Phase 2 of the vaccine priority list. All the earlier priority groups remain eligible. According to the Department of Health, part of the reason for opening Phase 2 is because providers in some parts of the state are no longer able to fill appointments with only folks in the Phase 1A, B, and C groups. The Wall Street Journal's vaccine tracking project forecasts that, at our current rate of vaccination, about half the state's population will have received at least one dose of vaccine by early May, and 75% by early summer. At present, roughly a third of the state's adult residents have been fully vaccinated.

But there's still a lot of hesitancy about getting a shot which is hampering efforts in some communities. And as the supply of vaccine increases, there's a growing risk that doses will sit unused, new variants will develop, and unnecessary infections and illness will continue to occur.

Usha Lee McFarling, a writer at the online health newsletter STAT, offers some suggestions for how to talk to people who may be hesitant about being vaccinated. She cautions, however, that the conversation can be difficult. “This can be a messy, emotional, difficult space.”

Her first suggestion is to pick your battles. Some people are dead-set against receiving any vaccines and are unlikely to change their minds no matter what you say or do. Still, there are plenty of people in the middle, the so-called “vaccine hesitant,” who may just want more information or may be waiting until more people they know are vaccinated before they step up. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates about 22% of people are in the "wait and see" group, and it’s this group that’s worth focusing your efforts on.

Avoid lecturing and don’t assume you know what their concerns are. Just listen without judgment. “Try to address their concerns, not what you assume are their concerns,” recommends Jorge Moreno, an internist and assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine. Not everyone's concerns are conspiracy-based. Moreno says the most common questions he's been asked have centered around side effects and whether the vaccines might make people too sick to work.
Pediatrician and public health advocate Rhea Boyd suggests keeping things simple. “If people think they might get COVID from the vaccines, it’s because they don’t understand it’s not a live vaccine. If people are asking about the costs, it’s clear they don’t understand the vaccines are free.”

Don’t focus on science. That's the advice of Heidi Larson, an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Facts by themselves rarely do anything, and sometimes they aggravate the situation because people feel like you are not listening to their concerns. Science alone is not going to change the minds of those with strong beliefs.” She suggests appealing to altruism. For example, we can point out that getting vaccinated will help protect family members and others in the community. “Some people are more willing to take the vaccine if you say, ‘It’s not for you, it’s for your grandmother,’ or ‘It’s for those you work with.’”

Another suggestion is to avoid making people feel foolish about their possible lack of information. “No matter what, this is a brand-new virus and these are brand-new vaccines. It’s reasonable for people to have concerns,” says Dr. Larson. “Take a deep breath and just hear people out. Everyone’s had a rough year one way or another. People are worn down, and we need to help each other.”

And, if all else fails, focus on the future. Suggesting that, once enough people are vaccinated, we'll all be able to celebrate birthdays and holidays together again may make getting a shot worth it for some folks.

People's hesitancy most likely comes from doubt and their doubt most likely comes from fear. Fear isn't always logical and it isn't always fact-based. As Dr. Larson reminds us, it's been a tough year for everyone.

Remember, we're each a role model, whether we realize it or not. One of the best things we can do is to role model thoughtfulness and common sense. That, alone, may be all that someone needs to see to overcome their hesitancy about being vaccinated.

In gratitude for all that you do.
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.