Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

How to Talk With Vaccine-Hesitant Patients


When speaking with patients reluctant to get vaccinated, listen to their concerns, and convey respect and empathy.

A half hour into our town hall meeting, one of the attendees broke what had so far been a smooth COVID-19 discussion. With anger in his voice, he shared his disbelief in the entire pandemic and emphasized that we were wrong. The moderator of the town hall frantically attempted to mute him, but I calmly said, “Thank you, sir. Here’s my personal email. Please email me and let’s talk more!”


He emailed me that evening. We then spoke on the phone for 45 minutes, going over his concerns and beliefs. About a half hour into our conversation, as I shared the science and what we knew, he asked, “Wait, if you’re so busy, why are you taking the time to speak with me?”


“If I can have you on board, and you share this information with your family and friends, it makes my job in the ICU easier. Talking with you is important,” I replied.


We continued to stay in touch, and in a follow-up town hall, he had a different tone altogether. Now he’s one of our COVID-19 champions, helping his community. Talking with hundreds of vaccine-hesitant patients has taught me a few lessons in how to do so. Here are 5 suggestions:


1. Listen.

Listen to your patient’s concerns, worries, reservations, and skepticisms. Listening to understand where they’re coming from is the only way you’ll be able to have a meaningful conversation.


2. Leave lots of time for questions.

Spend 10 percent of your time talking and 90 percent listening and allowing time for questions.


3. Convey caring.

Your tone and body language are as important as the words you say. Your patient will feel your caring and concern. They may not remember all of the things you said, but they’ll remember that you cared.


4. Don’t judge.

Honor and respect everything your patient shares with you.


5. Earn trust by following-up.

You have to follow-up with your patient, and make it clear during your first conversation that you’ll follow-up. When your patient sees that you’re willing to spend more time with them, they’ll see that you care.



This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.