Convincing someone to get the COVID-19 vaccine may require adjusting your focus

Getting as many people as possible inoculated against COVID-19 is the only way out of the pandemic — so, how should folks be approached if they reject the vaccine?

An expert advises not trying to convince them.

“One of the things that I have learned is that just trying to convince people, I usually fell flat,” said Dr. Jewel Mullen, associate dean for health equity at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School.

“I’ve turned thinking about ‘convincing’ into thinking about answering the questions that people have to help them make a decision that’s best for their health. I believe we can do that,” she said.

Mullen has served on the National Academies‘ expert committee on the Framework for an Equitable Distribution of a COVID-19 Vaccine. Mullen was the former principal deputy assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and she was the acting assistant secretary for health and acting director of the National Vaccine Program Office.

Her guiding philosophy as a doctor is trying to help people make choices to prevent disease rather than just waiting for them to get sick before then trying to cure them.

Some people are skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine because it’s so new, was developed so quickly, and they’re concerned shortcuts were taken.

“These are facts: The safety protocols and processes necessary for this vaccine to be approved were followed. They were followed in the U.S.; they were followed across the science community that came together to create this vaccine,” Mullen said.

Just like with every new medication, more will be learned about the vaccine’s benefits and possible side effects as more people use it.

There have been a few cases of allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine in England. But, doctors say the vaccine is not a live virus, and just like being vaccinated against influenza, it will not infect you.

Studies leading up to the approval process show there are some side effects to COVID-19 vaccines.

“People’s arms would be sore. That they felt tired. That they might have felt headachy for a day. They felt achy for a day. All of those things. But, they go away,” Mullen said.

Also, common side effects resulting from flu or COVID-19 vaccines can be interpreted as good signs.

“Those are the reassuring signs — the vaccine is helping your body learn how to develop immunity or resistance to the infection,” Mullen said.

The vaccine is free.

Some people are concerned about cost, but the federal government has arranged for everyone to get the vaccine for free and has worked with insurance companies to ensure no one will have to pay out-of-pocket.

A lot of thought has gone into who should get the vaccine first to do the greatest amount good for the most people. Mullen asks people who are eager to get vaccinated to not try to skip ahead of their places in line.

“There are reasons that we have said some people should get it first. Everyone is equally, equally important in our society — the risk that some people face make us say, they should get it first.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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