How to Talk to Patients Reluctant to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine

Family physician Mitchell A. Kaminski, MD, MBA, was still awash in feelings of joy and relief at recently being vaccinated against COVID-19 when a patient's comments stopped him cold. The patient, a middle-aged man with several comorbidities, had just declined the pneumonia vaccine – and he added, without prompting, that he wouldn't be getting the COVID vaccine either. This patient had heard getting vaccinated could kill him.

Kaminski countered with medical facts, including that the very rare side effects hadn't killed anyone in the United States but COVID was killing thousands of people every day. "Well then, I'll just risk getting COVID," Kaminski recalled the patient saying. Conversation over.

That experience caused Kaminski, who is program director for population health at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, to rethink the way he talks to patients who are uncertain or skeptical about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Now, if he saw that patient who seemed fearful of dying from a vaccination, Kaminski said he would be more curious.

Instead of outright contradicting the beliefs of a patient who is reluctant to get vaccinated, Kaminski now gently asks about the reasons for their discomfort and offers information about the vaccines. But mostly, he listens.

Conversations between physicians and patients about the risks that come with getting a COVID-19 vaccine are becoming more common in general as eligibility for immunizations expands. Physicians are using a variety of methods to communicate about the safety and importance of getting vaccinated that they think will lead to more of their patients getting a COVID-19 vaccine.