Supporting someone who is anxious about having the COVID-19 vaccine

There is so much information – and misinformation – about COVID-19 vaccinations, it can be hard to find the facts. The stakes are high, and it’s an emotional issue, so even discussing it can be stressful. Here, Beyond Blue’s lead clinical advisor, Dr Grant Blashki, offers ways to support someone who is worried about having the vaccine.

The evidence shows mass vaccination is currently a crucial element for reducing the high rates of severe illness and death from COVID-19 that we’ve seen in many places around the world.

But these are also uncertain times, and some people have concerns about getting vaccinated. It’s okay to have mixed feelings.

The best advice you can give someone is to talk to their GP. Ultimately, everyone has to weigh the pros and cons for themselves, based on the information they have.

There are ways you can approach a family member or friend who feels anxious about getting vaccinated, to ensure they have access to trusted, expert information.

Be respectful

We are all adjusting to a challenging situation we’ve never experienced before, and it keeps changing. Some people might need extra support during these adjustments.

It can help to remember that most people who have concerns about vaccination aren’t setting out to harm others.

Judging someone, embarrassing them, dismissing their concerns or trying to force them into getting vaccinated are unlikely to influence their perspective.

Instead, listen and try not to interrupt. Pick a good time to speak with them alone, face-to-face if possible, and be clear you’re coming from a position of care and concern rather than debate.

Acknowledge their concerns

Common worries might be side-effects or concerns about the options available. It can help to simply acknowledge someone’s anxious feelings about these issues.

If it feels appropriate, you might also choose to reassure them that millions of people have been vaccinated so far and the evidence is very clear that for most people, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks. Encourage them to consult a GP if they have health concerns.

You may also like to remind them there is very strong evidence that vaccination reduces the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. This protection will continue to be important as restrictions ease and we transition to living safely with the virus.

Senior Indian couple drinking tea and talking


Point to credible sources

You don’t have to be a scientific expert.

The goal is to support your loved one through their anxious feelings, and direct them to credible sources. Find out where they’re getting their information from. Ask them why they trust that person or source.

Ask them if they have a GP or other health professional they trust, and offer to go with them or book them in for an open conversation about their concerns.

Highlight the benefits you feel

If you are vaccinated, or plan to be, tell them about the relief you feel knowing you’re protected and contributing to the global effort to manage COVID-19.

If you felt anxious or uncertain before getting your jab, you can discuss this and talk about how you worked through your worries and made your decision.

Find out what really matters to them. Is it their health? Their wish to travel and socialise again? Are they concerned about elderly or vulnerable relatives? Link the benefits of being vaccinated to the things they care about.

Remind them that by getting vaccinated they are not only protecting themselves but everyone they interact with, as well as helping the community to gradually open up, which is good for our collective mental health and wellbeing.

Don’t rush, don’t push

Strong-arming or humiliating someone to have a vaccine won’t work. People tend to double down when they feel cornered or pushed into something.

Show support, and give them time to go over the facts and make up their own mind.

Useful resources

Feelings of anxiety are normal in uncertain times. However, if your worries or someone else’s are persistent, intense or interfering with daily life, it may be helpful to speak with Beyond Blue, your GP or a mental health professional.

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