Professor's advice for convincing unvaccinated people to get the COVID vaccine

·2 min read

On The Week With Joshua Johnson Sunday, Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ken Resnicow explained how to convince unvaccinated people to get the COVID-19 vaccine using a technique called motivational interviewing. Millions of Americans are still refusing to be vaccinated despite a surge in cases due to the Delta variant.

“Most of the advice that we offer, people have already heard about and rejected already, and so it’s more of a nuisance factor,” Resnicow said. “And until we first establish some rapport with the person — let them express their concerns, in this case bring you back to the vaccine, their concerns about getting the vaccine — until you've drained that swamp of negativity, until you’ve allowed them to discharge their resistance energy, advising them and even informing them is premature. We have to first try to neutralize that resistance.”

To put it simply, according to Resnicow, the important first step is to listen to whatever grievances and concerns a person has about the vaccine, and let them know they’ve been heard, using reflective statements.

“Let them express their anger, their mistrust, their doubts, and then reflect it back with ‘you statements,’” Resnicow said. “‘You’re worried that the government is trying to force this on people. You don’t trust the public health system. You’re not convinced that the disease is as scary as people say.’ Those ‘you statements’ without judgement, without trying to persuade, send a meta-message that I’m trying to understand you, I’m not gonna judge you and I’m not gonna push you.”

While Resnicow said anger and frustration at the unvaccinated is understandable, expressing that anger in a hostile manner toward them, as some have done, will do nothing to help the situation.

“We know from hundreds of randomized trials that that type of communication, guilt and shame or pressure, are not gonna move the unpersuaded. We have to do things like affirm. Things like, ‘You really care about understanding this vaccine. You’ve really tried to figure it out. You value your independence. God is important to you.’ It’s important to establish that bridge between you two before you try to persuade or in any way inform,” Resnicow said. “And we understand it takes some psychological discipline because human nature is aligned with what you (Johnson) just said, where some people are getting frustrated with the unvaccinated. It’s not gonna help.”

The Week With Joshua Johnson airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 9 p.m. on MSNBC.

Check out what Trump's surgeon general said about a popular anti-vax argument: 'Freedom argument is bunk':

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