What Will Inspire People on the Fence to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine? Here are 5 Tips From Research and Real Life

This advice will definitely come in handy if you have friends, family or co-workers who are feeling uneasy.

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, Mary Poppins famously says. Turns out, being sweet and supporting rather than shameful is clutch if anyone in your circle is currently unsure about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

A Pew Research Center survey performed in February 2021 found that 30% of Americans say they probably or definitely don't plan to get vaccinated, and another 17% say they probably will but aren't quite sure.

To date, nearly 19% of Amercicans have been fully vaccinated and about 32% have one shot, per data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and many states are expanding eligibility. The Cleveland Clinic says that 50% to 80% of Americans must be vaccinated for us to reach herd immunity, however, so we have a ways to go. Read on for some helpful hints about what has worked for others in case someone you know is feeling hesitant.

1. Clear up vaccination myths

Persuasion and support—rather than pressure or bribes (get vaccinated and you'll get a bonus!)—worked best for Tina Sandri, the chief executive of Forest Hills of D.C, a nursing home that was struggling to inspire staff to get vaccinated. According to a New York Times feature about Sandri's shot education campaign, 92 of her 200 employees (including nurses, certified nursing assistants, cooks, activities staff and security officers) originally declined an available COVID-19 vaccine, putting the elderly residents at risk. She initially tried a party-like vibe at the vaccination events, offering snacks and playing peppy music. But after a low turnout, what really moved the needle (literally) was holding small group chats and asking what lingering concerns she could help address about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. (ICYMI, here are 7 COVID-19 vaccine myths you definitely shouldn't believe, according to infectious disease doctors.)

woman sitting surrounded by Covid-19 cells and vaccine bottles
Getty Images / nadia_bormotova / bgblue - Freepik / rawpixel

2. Help it hit home

After inspiring about half of the 92 to get vaccinated by March, Sandri took an even more targeting approach; having conversations one by one with her remaining staff. She called this final push a "time-intensive, conversation-intensive, case-by-case uphill climb." Sandri confirms the key was targeting each chat to what would hit home for each person. "For analytical people, we provided data on number of cases, number of people in trials, percent of people who experience an immune response," she tells the New York Times. "For relationship-based thinkers, we asked if they had any vulnerable friends or family members, and how having or not having the vaccine might impact the relationship." By the end of March, nearly 80% of her staff was vaccinated.

3. Listen rather than judge

Being critical or combative will rarely create the desired result, and Sandri's efforts are proof that patience is key. "Everyone's fears are real, whether or not they are grounded in science or in something they believe right now...Beliefs change with time or new knowledge, so we have to ride it out. Listen hard, don't judge and let them move at their own pace," Sandri tells the New York Times.

4. Stop shaming

Bribes or punishment weren't part of Sandri's successful strategies, and shame wasn't either. And a new paper published in Frontiers in Psychology proves this to be true, based on research from nearly 1,900 residents of the U.S., Italy and South Korea. "The thinking has been that the more you shame people the more they will obey. But this turns out to be absolutely wrong," says Giovanni Travaglino, an assistant professor of social psychology at Kent University in a TIME story regarding the data. Rather than calling anti-vaccine movement followers "stupid and selfish" as some media outlets have, Travaglino says come from a place of kindness. "It's hard to get people to act in a cooperative manner when you approach them that way," Travaglino adds. "It's associated with subordination to authority, and people don't like that."

5. Be open about your vaccination, if you've received it

The vaccination status and support of friends and family can make a big impact, finds a March 2021 TIME/Harris Poll survey. A full 56% of those polled say they were vaccinated after a friend and family member did so, and even more (59%) were compelled to do so after having a conversation with a loved one about the vaccine shots. Six in 10 say they felt the urge to book an appointment because they wanted to visit friends or family in person, but couldn't without being vaccinated.

After more than a year apart, sharing holidays and a hug with a loved one sounds pretty inspiring to us. Check out the activities the CDC says are now safe to do if you are fully vaccinated. Then learn more about vaccine eligibility and availability in your state here.

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