Addressing, understanding vaccine hesitancy among friends, family

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Addressing vaccine hesitancy
WATCH: You probably know someone who's hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. And experts say your approach can go a long way in helping their comfort levels. Global's Marney Blunt explains – May 27, 2021

As Manitoba moves ahead with administering second-dose COVID-19 vaccines, some are still on the fence about getting the first dose.

Provincial health officials said during a press conference Wednesday there were thousands of appointments available at the vaccine supersite in the soccer complex on Leila Avenue. On Thursday and Friday, the province opened the site up to walk-in appointments for first and second doses.

Janessa Griffith, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and researcher with the Women’s College Hospital, recently issued a study that assessed vaccine hesitancy on Twitter.

“We all think about vaccine hesitancy as one-in-the-same, but it’s actually pretty nuanced,” Griffith told Global News.

“I looked to Twitter because it is a publicly available repository of data, and it was really important to get certain snapshots in time,” she said.

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“What I found was that people were mostly concerned with safety, political or economic skepticism, misunderstanding information, as well as confusing messaging from authority figures.”

Griffith says a lot of the concerns she noted related to safety questions, given the speed at which the vaccines were developed.

“(People are) thinking it was pushed out too quickly or that it’s still in the experimental phases, but it’s not,” Griffith said. “And it’s very hard to combat that misinformation because they’re calling it — in parallel with the actual pandemic — they’re calling it an info-demic. So we’re just bombarded with all these different sources of information and even misinformation, it can look really credible.”

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Griffith says government and health officials’ approach to addressing vaccine hesitancy needs to be multi-faceted.

“I think we need to have multiple strategies. So if people prefer hearing information through a story or an anecdote or through a short video clip or TikTok, I think we need to target multiple angles so that we are reaching people who might not look at graphs or infographics,” Griffith said.

Click to play video: 'Pandemic misinformation'
Pandemic misinformation

Carolyn Klassen, a therapist with Conexus Counselling, also says there are multiple reasons why people are hesitant to get the vaccine, including misinformation online, a sense of a loss of control during the pandemic, or even simply just not liking needles.

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“I think we have to recognize that their hesitancy comes out of this anxiety and fear and loss of control that we have all been having for a lot of months,” Klassen said. “And some people are going to handle it one way, and some people are going to handle via vaccine hesitancy.”

She also says it’s difficult to address vaccine hesitancy, after hearing repeatedly that our way out of the pandemic is through vaccines. She says there are important factors to consider in dealing with hesitancy among friends and family.

“Sometimes when you hear someone is vaccine-hesitant, our very natural initial response is to want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them,” she said. “But we know that blaming, shaming, complaining, backing them into a corner to convince them to do something actually rarely works with anything, never mind (the) vaccine.”

Klassen recommends hearing out their concerns first.

“Often, once you really listen to a person, they feel heard and valued,” Klassen said. “There’s this turn-taking in conversation where they will eventually say ‘and why did you come up with the idea that makes sense for you to have a vaccine?'”

She also says it’s important to show empathy and avoid passing judgment.

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“As we want to relate to people who want to have vaccine hesitancy, we need to do so in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, which is really hard when the pandemic has dragged on as long as it was,” Klassen added.

“The economy is hard, people are losing their businesses, people are in the ICUs, tensions are really high, and so that makes conversations about this — that are open and vulnerable and safe and effective — that makes them really challenging.”

“So often it can slip into judgment and criticism and shame, and people don’t grow where they are shamed or criticized, they grow where they are loved.”

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