When discussing COVID vaccinations, I show appreciation to those who have been vaccinated and explain to them that they performed a vital civic duty.
What’s going on in our country is depressing and upsetting because it’s preventable. Those who feel the way I do about vaccination have all been vaccinated. It’s common for vaccinated people to harbor frustration and anger toward those who have not yet chosen to get the vaccine. But the fear that many of our patients have about vaccination is real and emotional and is not likely to be vanquished by criticism.
A patient I spoke with the other day told me he chose not to get vaccinated because he didn’t think his immune system could handle it. Another I spoke with is worried about the vaccine’s potential effects on her fertility. Some I have spoken with have told me that they’re trying to build up the courage to get vaccinated but are scared of known and not-yet-known side effects. These discussions illustrate that “vaccine hesitancy” is often borne from fear—not callousness or selfishness. We can acknowledge their fear, and frame vaccination in a positive light. Here are 5 things I’ve been telling my patients, their families, and my friends:
1. If you’ve been vaccinated or plan to be soon, you’re not only helping yourself and those around you, but you’re also a patriot who has taken an important step in helping our economy.
2. If you have fears about vaccination but, nonetheless, got vaccinated (or plan to do so in the next few days), you are brave.
3. If you live in a locale where there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy and you choose to get vaccinated and make this known to your friends, family, and colleagues, you are performing a vital civic duty.
4. If you’re vaccinated but you still got COVID, try to frame this positively to those around you: at least you survived and weren’t hospitalized. It could have been SO much worse.
5. If your work involves caring for people with COVID, your livelihood has been harmed by COVID, or you’re feeling beaten down by the pandemic, yet you still are showing up to work, masking up, treating people with compassion, and taking care of yourself as best you can, hang in there. This won’t last forever.
People are still dying from COVID and suffering from its fallout on our lives. Our patients and their families—including those who have not yet been vaccinated—want to do the right thing for themselves and their communities. Let’s meet them where they are, recognizing how painful and frightening this pandemic has been for everybody.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.