Making it through this pandemic has not only been about making good public health choices, like wearing masks, socially distancing, and vaccinations. It’s also been about having tough conversations with our friends and family. But considering some 30% of adults aren’t yet fully vaccinated, there’s a good chance you’re still having some of those tough conversations.
Lucky for us, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared some useful advice during an online town hall with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo on Wednesday.
Reading a question from a constituent, Congresswoman Eshoo asked: “How can we talk to people in our communities about COVID-19 misinformation in ways that might change someone’s mind? What are some common mistakes to avoid when trying to speak to people about vaccinations?”
“Many people who are vaccine-hesitant are hesitant because they have valid questions that have never been answered,” Dr. Fauci responded.
One major thing you can do is be patient, Dr. Fauci said. “Don’t be accusatory, and try to ask and to answer the valid questions that people have.” Focus on hearing their concerns with empathy and an open mind, as tough as that may be. “You want to try and understand why they don’t want to do it.”
Next, see if you can point your loved one to a person they trust in the community. “People listen to trusted messengers—try and connect them with someone that they trust,” Dr. Fauci explained. “And that may not necessarily be a government person like myself. It might be a clergyman. It might be the family doctor. It might be the family pediatrician who takes care of your children, or it may be someone in the community that you trust—an athlete, an entertainer.”
But Dr. Fauci also acknowledged that these efforts can be complicated by serious misinformation campaigns designed to confuse people about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. For that, he recommended a guide released Tuesday morning by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
A few pointers the guide offers for talking to friends and family include asking questions to understand why they believe what they do, focusing on how they feel about the broader issue rather than the false claim itself, and, perhaps most surprisingly, not necessarily fact-checking them when you talk.
“While sometimes it can be tempting to pull out a ‘fact-check’ as proof someone is wrong, this approach can often shut down a conversation,” the guide explains.
Instead, the toolkit recommends empathizing with how hard and confusing it can be to keep up with the massive amount of information this pandemic has unleashed. “Underscore that finding accurate information can be hard, especially during events like the pandemic when the information is constantly changing (which will always happen with a new virus or disease),” it says. Then, once it’s clear that you have that common ground, you can emphasize the necessity of reliable sources, still without accidentally shaming the other person in the conversation.
Speaking of falling for false claims, another tool in the guidebook is a checklist of questions to ask yourself before sharing health information yourself, including whether you verified that the claim is correct via a reputable source like your local health department. Even if you hear something about this virus (or another health issue!) that sounds totally intuitive on its face, given how quickly the news moves these days, it’s always a good idea to double-check.
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- Is It COVID-19 or Allergies? Here’s How to Tell the Difference.