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A vaccine call to action – how to talk to hesitant friends and family


First, a call to action for anyone who has not been vaccinated for COVID-19: The time is now to protect yourself and your family.

It has never been easier to get the vaccine, and there are a wide range of clinics across the region scheduled at convenient times. At this point, we’ve all probably had this interaction at least once. COVID-19 and the vaccines come up in casual conversation, as COVID-19 tends to do, and our relative or family member mentions they are not getting the vaccine or are unsure about it. What do you do? What can you say if you (like the team here at San Juan Basin Public Health) believe these highly effective and lifesaving vaccines are our best tool to keep our community safe? The reasons someone may not want the vaccine can be unique, and there is no clear road map on how to have these conversations. However, their reasons are likely to fall within a few categories, and there are some basic guidelines experts have studied and shown to be most effective in promoting the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Most of the reasons someone may be hesitant about the vaccine fall into five categories, known as the five C’s, a framework developed by public health researchers. They are: confidence (attitude), complacency (feeling invulnerable or uninvolved), constraints (lack of vaccine access and structural barriers), calculation (weighing extensive information) and collective responsibility (level of someone’s communal identity).

SJBPH, state and federal agencies, and community partners are all focused on addressing these five C’s. In cases involving access barriers, helping someone receive the COVID-19 vaccine can be as simple as providing a ride or setting up transportation options. SJBPH has also broadened the way we communicate, especially for the approximately 20% of La Plata County and Archuleta County residents without broadband internet. In other cases, SJBPH has listened to and collaborated with our community partners, tailoring our clinical approach to meet the needs of underserved communities, or Spanish speakers, for example.

But when it comes to more nuanced factors like confidence, complacency or collective responsibility, we as community members can educate our friends if we are informed and patient. First, there are a few basic ground rules. It’s important to listen and ask questions to learn about someone’s reasoning and fears.

A good place to start is by explaining your own reasons for getting vaccinated. This is a good icebreaker, because if you’re like me, it will likely include protecting your health, your family and being part of the solution that will get society back to normal. That means helping businesses stay open, supporting the recovery of our local economy and maintaining in-person learning for our kids. For other vaccinated people, maybe they noticed that some events or institutions are checking vaccine status and they simply want to access those. For many, these incentives are also persuasive.

It can also help to normalize the vaccine and talk about the long history of vaccine development in our country, and how far safety testing and science have progressed. Pointing out the number of people who have received vaccine in the U.S. (141.7 million) or Colorado (2.5 million) can also help for the group known as “wait and see.” Citing trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helps, especially when you are in the situation of explaining to someone who has already had COVID-19 that public health experts strongly urge them to be vaccinated.

Lastly, giving people time to come around is critical. The most challenging thing about this phase of vaccine is that it can take a series of conversations for someone to feel confident in getting vaccinated or to overcome complacency. SJBPH is grateful to everyone in our community who has gotten vaccinated, and I thank you for your help in talking to your friends and neighbors. We’ll be providing more information about this topic. SJBPH is here for you if you have questions: www.SJBPublicHealth.org or call 247-5702.

Chandler Griffin is interim communications director and public information officer at San Juan Basin Public Health.