Persistance, not resistance
Or, what to do when friends or family hesitate on COVID-19 vaccine
(TNS) – Mary Murtaugh is a recently retired nurse who says she has never been shy about promoting good health. She wasn’t shy the day she asked her favorite grocery store cashier if she’d been vaccinated.
The cashier was emphatic. No. And she wasn’t going to be. After listening to the cashier explain that she’d had a bad reaction to a flu shot, Murtaugh persisted.
“I told her that I would be worried if she contracted COVID,” Murtaugh says, and the clerk promised to think about it.
Promising to think about something is often no more than a polite deflection. But the cashier did think about it. She later reported she’d gotten two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and thanked Murtaugh for the “gentle push.”
“Sometimes,” Murtaugh says, “all you need to do is plant a seed.”
Planting seeds in people reluctant to get a vaccine can be like trying to garden in the Sahara. When I asked people on Facebook how they’ve handled vaccine resistance among their friends and family, they cataloged the pushback they’d received, a mishmash of fear and fantasy:
Needles hurt. COVID-19 is a Democratic hoax. The vaccines are a government conspiracy. They’re made of synthetic materials and we shouldn’t put synthetic materials into our bodies. The government is using vaccines to insert nanoprobes into our arms.
One woman lamented that an old high school friend wouldn’t get vaccinated because during a visit to the beauty salon she’d heard about a man in Poland who dropped dead upon receiving the shot.
It’s tempting to generalize about vaccine resisters, but they don’t all fall into neat categories. One conservative-voting man I know has gotten the vaccine, but his adult children refuse to.
Dragana Laky’s dad didn’t fall into a neat category either.
“To my great and unpleasant surprise,” Laky says, “my father said he wouldn’t want to get one until later, presumably to see how others are faring, preferring anecdotal evidence to clinical trials.”
Her father is 77, and she describes him as stubborn, “although, or because, he’s extremely smart.” He’s married to a physician. One of his daughters is a physician. Eventually, after Laky, her mother and sister talked to him separately, he relented.
“He got his first Pfizer shot the other day,” she says. “I think the key was toning down our outrage and blame game and going the ‘you’re a wise man and we love you but you may be overcautious here’ route.”
Once again, persistence beat resistance.
It worked for Tom Dore, too, when someone close to him refused a second shot after a bad reaction to the first.
“I told him about the science that I’d read about, and made all the rational arguments,” Dore says. They argued politics. The resister resisted. Then said he’d think about it. And eventually gave in.
Another victory, but, Dore adds, “It was a hell of a struggle.”
Vaccines, like politics, can drive wedges between people in any country. My Facebook friend Bor Greiner lives in Slovenia. He has a friend who’s a nurse. He’s pro-vaccine. She isn’t.
“Even though I tried to emphasize her responsibility as a role model in our not-so-big-of-a-town,” he says, “she firmly drawed the line, grasping for: My life, my choice. What I walked away with is that on Facebook I would probably snooze her for 30 days while in real life she remains my dear friend.”
Most of the people I’m close to have been eager for a vaccine. The exception was my youngest sister, Gina. Gina lives alone. She doesn’t use a computer or watch TV, and while that spares her a lot of misinformation, it also limits her access to good information. She gets all her news from radio, and for a while the confusing news and her past severe reactions to flu vaccines made her adamant she wouldn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine.
But I and a few others persisted. We talked about how excited we were by our own vaccines, the renewed liberty it would afford her after a year isolated in her house. She finally agreed and is excited to have an appointment this month.
“I hate needles,” she said, in a pithy summary of her decision, “but it’s better than being dead.”
COVID-19 cases are rising again in many places, including Chicago. It’s in our collective interest to keep trying to persuade the vaccine hesitant. None of us can do it alone, but these stories suggest how we might help change one mind at a time.
Lead by example. Persist, gently. Plant the seed.
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