Targeting Vaccine Hesitancy

Tips on How to Approach Reluctant Patients

by TERESA SCHIFFER

As we head into another year with the COVID-19 threat still heavily upon us, many healthcare providers are wondering how to better communicate to the public the real risks associated with this disease. After hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of positive cases and the release of successful vaccines, there are still people who are reluctant to receive a free inoculation. So what can healthcare providers do to encourage their patients to get vaccinated?

 

The first step is to make sure to express an attitude of compassion, empathy, and sensitivity to their concerns. It is important that patients trust their healthcare providers and understand that they have their best interests at heart. It’s also important to remember that arguing or debating can cause people to dig in more firmly on their preconceived ideas.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that healthcare providers request patients’ permission to engage in a conversation about the vaccination. It goes on to say that if the patient does not want to discuss the topic, providers should respond with patience, letting them know that their health and the well-being of their family are of utmost importance. 

 

One way to gauge patients’ degree of hesitancy to vaccinate is to ask them to rank their likelihood to get a vaccine on a scale of one to 10, one being “never” and 10 being “already have an appointment scheduled for vaccination.” This helps the provider know where the patient stands and what needs to be done to edge that number upward.

 

A method of determining what’s going on in a patient’s mind is to ask what they have heard from their community about the vaccine. This allows the patient to express the rumors and misinformation that causes them confusion and concern without leading to embarrassment or defensiveness. 

 

“The amount of COVID-19 vaccination information available to the public is so vast, and the whole situation can generate various levels of fear, stress and anxiety,” explains Dr. Daniel Haight, Lakeland Regional Health Vice President of Community Health and Medical Director or Infection Prevention. 

“It is best to listen to the concerns of someone who is hesitant about the vaccine and empathize with them, as they are often trying to make this important decision on how best to protect themselves and those around them.”

 

While some patients may be apprehensive, the Kaiser Family Foundation has found through its research that roughly 85 percent of adult patients do feel that their primary care physician is the most trustworthy source of information regarding COVID-19 and vaccination, regardless of their sex, gender, ethnicity, or political leanings. This reinforces the fact that healthcare providers can have a huge impact on vaccination rates through simple and effective communication with patients.

 

The words of a patient’s own doctor carry so much weight, in fact, that according to a 2008 study in the American Journal of Medicine, “Barriers to Adult Immunization,” the second-biggest reason that an adult does not get a particular immunization at any given time is that their doctor has not recommended it. This highlights the importance of taking the time to talk with patients.

 

As healthcare providers resolve to open these dialogues with patients moving forward, they have to be prepared to answer any questions that may arise during the conversations. Do not try to refute misinformation by first repeating it; this has the potential to backfire. Sometimes people only hear the myth, and disregard the explanation of its inaccuracy. Instead, present the facts and respond directly to any questions or concerns.

 

A common concern among patients will be over the potential side effects of a vaccine. When this comes up, providers should inquire if the patient has received a flu vaccine or any other type of vaccination in recent years. They should then reassure the patients that the side effects of a COVID-19 vaccination are similar to what they may have experienced after a flu shot. Let them know that fatigue and muscle aches are common side effects after the COVID-19 vaccine, and that this does not mean that the shot gave them the disease. Realistically preparing a patient for the most common side effects can help prevent anxiety should those symptoms manifest.

 

“People want to do the safe and effective action, and we as medical professionals need to listen to their specific concerns and provide factual advice,” Haight advises. 

 

“I like to let people know that the advice I am giving to them is what I would give my friends, family and neighbors.”