Try these tactics to help encourage them to protect their health.

By Lisa Milbrand
February 11, 2021

Millions of COVID-19 vaccines have already been distributed and put into people's arms. But even as some scramble to find the vaccines for themselves, others are turning down their opportunity to become protected.

If you have a high-risk family member or friend who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, but is refusing to get the shot now—or ever—it can be incredibly frustrating. But there are key tactics to help you work through their misgivings and get them to a "yes."

Really hearing and empathizing with why they're resistant to the coronavirus vaccine could help you keep the conversation going—and might help you find a more convincing argument to encourage them to get the vaccine. "Listening to and validating concerns can help to reduce defensiveness and open the discussion,"  says Kristin Orlowski, a licensed psychologist at UCHealth Family Medicine in Littleton, Colo.

Once you understand your friend or family member's misgivings, it'll be easier to figure out what might convince them—whether it's parsing through studies and safety information, playing into their patriotism by showing how it helps our country recover, or just talking about the things they'll be able to potentially do once they've had the vaccine.

By customizing the message, you're more likely to have them listen.

Often, people who might be reluctant to get vaccinations for themselves could be encouraged by suggesting they do it for their loved ones—whether it's encouraging grandparents to get the shot to be able to hug their grandkids, or young people to get the shot to protect vulnerable family members.

That's the premise behind This Jab's For You, a campaign spearheaded by Steven Arsht, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at New York City’s Mount Sinai, in honor of his brother-in-law, who died from COVID-19 in April 2020. The site encourages people to get vaccinations in honor of the people they love, or in memory of someone they know who died from COVID. 

"Our goal is to encourage people to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the people around them," Dr. Arsht says. "We've created a website, an Instagram account, and Facebook page where people can post their vaccination pictures and share their stories of who they may be thinking of or honoring when they get their 'jab.'"

Some people who are eligible for the vaccine are choosing to wait to "let people who need it more go first." But if they're eligible, now is the time for them. 

Try this argument: "You are in a high risk group and medical professionals have determined that you need this vaccine now," says Dr. Arsht. "There are new vaccines that will be coming down the pike and current vaccine production is ramping up so there will be enough to go around. When the opportunity presents itself, you have to 'take your shot' and do your part to help get America healthier and safer."

Trypanophobia, or fear of needles, is a relatively common source of anxiety—though more often for kids than adults. But if your loved one is someone who freaks out at the mere mention of a shot, there are techniques they can use to minimize their anxiety about getting the COVID vaccine.

"Relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided meditations can be helpful," says Orlowski. She recommends bringing a support person who can help distract your loved one while they're getting their shot, and eating beforehand to reduce the risk of passing out from the fear—or talking to their doctor to see if anxiety-relieving medication might be in order. 

Use social media to share your own COVID vaccine story, or other friends or family members who have gotten the shot. "Once people see other people that look like them and to whom they can relate getting the vaccine, they may feel more comfortable and be encouraged to do so themselves," Dr. Arsht says.

Even if Dr. Fauci and the other members of the COVID task force can't get through to them, their regular doctor can answer questions and give them trusted advice about the vaccine and its benefits for their own particular situation. 

Getting an appointment right now can be challenging to navigate, since every state—or even city or county—has their own unique process.

Helping your loved one get an appointment (and get to an appointment) could help make it easier for them to agree to be vaccinated.

"We need to make sure we take care of our elders," Dr. Arsht says. "Many are not tech savvy, do not have internet access or a computer, and may not know how to sign up. Some may not have transportation to get to a local vaccination center. We need to have a mechanism in place to identify these folks and get to them."

Here's how to make getting that appointment easier:

  • Get key information. You'll need info like their birthdate, address, and whether they’re on blood thinners or have had allergic reactions to other vaccines in order to answer the questionnaires quickly if you get through. 
  • Try at different times of day. Vaccine sites often open slots as they get them, so you might strike out at 10 a.m., but find a slot at midnight.
  • Try both by phone and by internet. Some people have reported more success with the phone lines than over the internet.