Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy

In order to overcome COVID-19, we will need a large percentage of the population to get vaccinated (and likely get booster shots within the next year). The World Health Organization estimates at least 70% of the world population will need to be vaccinated for herd immunity.  Given some highly infectious variants Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and many other infectious disease experts feel herd immunity will require 80-85% of the world population to be vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy is a normal phenomenon, but it is our job to support people and help them overcome their fears of the vaccines. Everyone has different perceptions of personal risks, and fear of the unknown. It is important to acknowledge those fears while providing accurate risk comparison with getting COVID-19 infection; the risks of COVID-19 infection range from minor inconveniences such as time off work to more severe long term reactions or even death. The vaccines have been rigorously studied using the same processes the US uses for all vaccines, even though they are currently under emergency access.

Here are some tips summarized from the University of Michigan (for full article and podcast, please go to https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/overcoming-covid-19-vaccine-hesitancy).

  1. Provide emotional support. Say “I know there is uncertainty, but this disease is scary. I got the vaccine (or am planning to) and I want it for my family and want you to get it too.”
  2. Acknowledge uncertain risk. People react very strongly to any kind of new risk, or perceived risk from something they have no experience with. But it’s not the case that we go through life never facing risk: we face it every time we drive our car, or allow our kid to ride their bike down the street. The threat of COVID-19 is real and increasing, and while it is reasonable to wonder about the vaccine or seek more information from reliable sources before deciding to get vaccinated, getting vaccinated will reduce risk to yourself, your loved ones and society as a whole.
  3. Talk about known risks. Let people know what to expect when getting the vaccines, from common side effects like muscle soreness and fever to the rare risk of allergic reactions. Talk about what’s being done to monitor and respond to those reactions.
  4. Provide information for information-seekers. Share articles from reputable sources to combat misinformation about the vaccines and their safety and efficacy.
  5. Partner with communities. Approach patients who are skeptical with transparency and respect. For example, with Black communities, acknowledge the problems that exist and partner with those with long-standing relationships in the communities to provide information.
  6. Share your experience. Saying “go get the vaccine” is one thing; showing that you are willing to do it openly is another, and even more powerful.
  7. Tap into people’s desire to protect. Use those pre-existing motivations to protect friends and family, and frame getting vaccinated as something you and everyone can do concretely for the people you love.

For industry-specific COVID-19 guidance from L&I, go to https://lni.wa.gov/safety-health/safety-topics/topics/coronavirus#industry-and-topic-specific-resources

Use these tips the next time someone tells you they are not certain about getting the vaccine; we all need to do our part to help reach herd immunity. For Washington state Labor and Industries information on paid sick leave for after vaccines, go to: https://lni.wa.gov/agency/outreach/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccines-and-paid-sick-leave-common-questions. For more information about vaccines and the workplace, the Washington Department of Health has compiled the following FAQs: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/120-053-FAQStepsCriticalWorkersVaccination.pdf