How to talk to vaccine skeptics

Posted on August 25, 2021

Updated December 1, 2021

Lies and deliberate misinformation about COVID vaccines have killed thousands of Americans. Those of us who are vaccinated understandably feel like yelling at the unvaccinated to wise up. But, of course, that won’t persuade anyone.

Right now, more than 71 percent of adults and more than 86 percent of seniors 65+ are fully vaccinated. Among the unvaccinated, who are overwhelmingly white and Republican, about half say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine. For them, there is little you can do.

Let’s focus on the others, the 25 million unvaccinated skeptics (with an additional 20 million children in their care). What can we say to persuade them to take the shot?

Generally speaking, we won’t succeed by getting bogged down in details. There are too many Internet-based vaccine lies for us to rebut them one-by-one. Instead, we should focus on simple facts: more than 230 million Americans, including virtually all doctors, have taken the vaccine and are doing fine.

As we always recommend, you must start the conversation at some point of agreement.

I understand this is hard because there is so much conflicting information about COVID out there, especially on the Internet. It forces you to decide who to trust.

Next, make your best argument.

Medical doctors are our experts in health, diseases and risk factors. That’s what they do every day. So it’s important to know that nearly all doctors in America have taken the COVID vaccine, Democrats and Republicans, Black and White. Whoever your doctor is, he or she is vaccinated. [1]

Whatever concerns you have about the vaccine, please call your doctor’s office, or your local health clinic, and ask what they recommend. And then, like 230 million Americans who have already taken the vaccine, trust your doctor. [2]

Finally, explain how they benefit.

Without the vaccine, even if you get a mild case of COVID, you can infect your family and friends and those illnesses can threaten their lives. So please, get vaccinated for your own health, but also for the love of your friends and family. [3]

There is no magic here, people are unlikely to change their minds as the result of a single conversation. If you have a follow-up discussion, use these same key points:

Their concern #1. I have heard that COVID vaccines are not safe.

Your answer #1. Over 230 million Americans have received a COVID vaccine. These medicines have proven to be among the safest in history. In fact, these vaccines are far safer than taking aspirin or Tylenol. You are more likely to be hit by lightning than hurt by a COVID vaccine. If you doubt the vaccine’s safety, please call your doctor’s office and ask. [4]

Their concern #2. I have heard that the COVID vaccines have not been approved by the FDA, so they are experimental.

Your answer #2. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines received final FDA approval months ago. They are certified as highly safe and highly effective. If you are still concerned about FDA approval, ask your doctor.

Their concern #3. COVID has been around for about two years and I haven’t had any problem with it. I don’t see why I should worry now.

Your answer #3. The coronavirus mutated into a more dangerous form, the Delta variant, which is far more contagious and both hospitalizes and kills younger, stronger people. There is also an Omicron variant which may be as bad or worse. Ask your doctor. Don’t risk yourself, your family and your friends.

Their concern #4. I have heard that the COVID vaccines are not stopping people from getting the Delta variant and may not work on Omicron. People are getting “breakthrough” cases of the virus. So there seems no point in getting the shot.

Your answer #4. More than 97 percent of serious COVID cases are people who are unvaccinated. Also, virtually everyone dying from COVID is unvaccinated while almost none of the vaccinated people are dying. In short, the vaccines have proven to work against the Delta variant and they are expected to provide substantial protection from Omicron. If you question this, please ask your doctor. [5]

Their concern #5. I have heard that even if I get COVID, there are medicines, like monoclonal antibodies, that will keep me safe. Again, there seems no reason to get the vaccine.

Your answer #5. When someone is hospitalized with COVID, doctors do their best with available treatments, both medicines and procedures. Monoclonal antibodies help some people recover, but around one thousand Americans are still dying of COVID every day. Worse, it seems clear that monoclonal antibodies won’t work nearly as well on the Omicron variant. Take the vaccine so you don’t endanger yourself, your friends, and family. [6]

Their concern #6. I have heard, and Donald Trump clearly said, that COVID will eventually just go away.

Your answer #6. There is no solution to the COVID crisis other than widespread vaccination. Many viruses used to be rampant and dangerous, including polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid, cholera and a dozen others. But we hardly worry about those diseases anymore because Americans are vaccinated against them. There is really only one way to end the COVID crisis, restore our economy, and give us back our regular social lives: vaccination. And if you’re going to take health advice from Donald Trump, know this: Trump is fully vaccinated and recommends others be vaccinated too. He said so himself. [7]

[1] An American Medical Association survey in early June 2021 found that 96 percent of practicing physicians were fully vaccinated for COVID. By now, that percentage approaches 100 percent. There was no significant difference by age, race or region.

[2] So far, more than 230 million Americans have taken at least one shot of the vaccine.

[3] The Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 90 percent of new COVID cases, is more than twice as infectious as the original virus and as infectious as chickenpox. The Omicron variant might be worse. That’s why COVID is so dangerous.

[4] Because they are given to healthy people, vaccines are held to an extremely high standard for safety. The COVID vaccines have caused almost no serious problems. In contrast, many patients are told to avoid or limit taking aspirin or Tylenol because of possible complications and risks. The odds of being struck by lightning in one’s lifetime is about 15,000 to 1, which is more likely than being hospitalized or dying from a COVID vaccine.

[5] Unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated, according to a CDC study. Among vaccinated Americans, about 0.001 percent have died of COVID, nearly all of them elderly.

[6] Despite the use of monoclonal antibodies and other treatments, around 1,000 Americans are dying of COVID every day. And monoclonal antibodies won’t work nearly as well on the Omicron variant.

[7] Trump told a rally of his supporters (and was booed for it) that he is fully vaccinated and recommends others be vaccinated too.

For more detailed rebuttals to COVID vaccine lies, see these excellent fact sheets from the Mayo Clinic and the Ford Health System.