2/2/2021 | By Annie Tobey

Life has changed dramatically since the coronavirus reached American shores. Many who have dodged illness or the death of a loved one have nonetheless experienced social isolation, job loss, diminished income, challenging lifestyle changes, and feelings like fear, loneliness, and depression. Fortunately, the new coronavirus vaccines signal a return to normalcy. For those whose aging parents are concerned about getting vaccinated, we take a look at reassuring seniors about the COVID vaccine.

For older adults, getting vaccinated is important to them and to others. According to the CDC, older adults who contract COVID-19 are more likely than the general population to become seriously ill, to require hospitalization, and even to die. In order to put this pandemic behind, the U.S. has to reach herd immunity. For this to happen, 75 to 85 percent of the population will need to get vaccinated.

What can you do to help your loved ones feel more comfortable about receiving a vaccine?

Know the Facts

Before you reach out, know the basics about the vaccine. Seniors Guide provided a useful overview of the vaccine, and you can get firsthand information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This way, you’ll be ready to address concerns and know where to find further answers.

Don’t Simply Assume They’re Hesitant to Get a Vaccine

Unless someone has vigorously stated that they will not get the coronavirus vaccine, casually assume that they will. Don’t say, “Mom, are you OK with getting the new vaccine?” That implies that there is a reason for concern! Instead, ask, “Mom, when are you getting the vaccine?”

When Reassuring Seniors About the COVID Vaccine – Listen!

If they’re hesitant to get the vaccine, ask why – and listen. This achieves three important purposes.

First, active listening is an important principle of effective communication.

Second, if you inadvertently go down the wrong information highway, you might introduce a concern they hadn’t even pondered!

Third, by finding out what the issue really is, you’ll know better how to address it. For example:

Are they fearful of the vaccine and its side effects? Reassure them that the side effects are mild and short, possibly like a mild cold for a day or so, versus the serious effects of the coronavirus. (Note: if they have a history of allergic reactions to vaccinations, get guidance from a medical professional.)

Are they unaware of the dangers of COVID-19? The CDC offers a plethora of information, including the risks for older adults.

Are they distrustful of medical professionals for racial reasons? The medical community has given people of color plenty of reasons to be skeptical, from the Tuskegee experiments to contemporary economic and cultural inequities in the health-care system. Point your loved one to the research done by the National Medical Association, a professional society of African American doctors. After creating a task force to vet the vaccine, the NMA expressed confidence in the vaccines’ efficacy and safety.

Meet Them Where They Are

You wouldn’t speak Italian in your attempt to persuade someone who only understood Japanese. While reassuring seniors about the COVID vaccine, particularly your parents, use your shared beliefs and ideals to ease the discussion; address them in the “language” they can relate to.

Do they listen to “emotional” arguments? Try, “The kids and I want you to stay safe and be around for a long time, Dad!”

Are they swayed by altruism? Explain how vaccinations protect others, including those most vulnerable.

Are they interested in financial issues? Point out that mass vaccination will help our society and economy recover more quickly.

Do they consider themselves proud Americans? Reframe mass vaccination as a way to help the U.S. conquer the pandemic and come back strong.

Do they listen to facts and reason? Find out exactly what concerns they have and share information that speaks to that. If they like to learn things for themselves, send links or printed materials.

Have they been receiving misinformation? Some websites and social media groups have been spreading falsehoods about the coronavirus and the vaccine. These groups have also convinced people to be skeptical of experts, sometimes rendering counterarguments fruitless. If you choose to counter the misinformation, be gentle and nonjudgmental in stating the facts.

While meeting them where they are and reassuring seniors about the COVID vaccine, keep your communications positive. “Shame is likely to achieve the opposite reaction we’re hoping for,” said researchers at the University of Florida. “Look to more constructive emotions like love, hope and the desire to protect to get people to act.”

Make It Personal

Benefits for them

If “for the good of society” doesn’t hold water, use more personal reasons: you can feel more comfortable going out again, the grandkids can visit, etc.

Things they can relate to

Older generations of Americans can remember when fearful diseases like polio and smallpox were rampant. Many had friends or relatives who contracted the diseases and recall the excitement when each vaccine came out. Mass vaccination programs eradicated the diseases (worldwide for smallpox, and in most of the world for polio). Your parents may also recall vaccinating you against measles, mumps, rubella, and other risks.

Trusted messengers

Many relate better to stories and people than to facts and arguments. If this is true for your loved ones, you can enlist a trusted advisor to speak to them. You can also point out friends, medical professionals, or celebrities who have been immunized.

Entertainment Weekly and People published stories of actors, comedians, politicians, and other well-known people who have received the COVID vaccine, including Billy Crystal, Al Roker, Dan Rather, Patrick Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Martin, Loretta Lynn, Judi Dench, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, Martha Stewart, Vice President Kamala Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joan Collins, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden, and Vice President Mike Pence.

Given the stakes, reassuring seniors about the COVID vaccine is among the most important conversations you’ll have with your loved ones. Approach it with care!

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey