Dear Vaccine Hesitant Parents
Updated: Jun 2
This article was translated into Chinese and published on WeChat through a collaboration with Chinese for Affirmative Action
“I’ve gone this long without contracting COVID-19, so I don’t need the vaccine.”
“Even if you get the vaccine, you can still get the disease.”
“If I get COVID, I’ll be able to recover.”
“The COVID-19 vaccine can cause death.”
“There are many unreported deaths from the vaccine.”
“I had bad side effects from the flu vaccine so I don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine.”
“We don’t know the long-term effects from the vaccine.”
These were common arguments from my vaccine-hesitant parents. As a pharmacy student, these statements especially frustrated me since pharmacists and pharmacy interns play such a critical part in distributing and administering vaccines.
My parents both have chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure. Since the onset of the pandemic, my mom would often say things like, “Be careful in public spaces, your dad is nearing age sixty.”
I recently started asking, “If you’re afraid of COVID-19, then why don’t you get the vaccine?” In response, my mom would frantically shake her head.
Knowing that COVID-19 can affect anyone, healthy or unhealthy, I have kept urging my parents to get the vaccine. After seeing my friend’s healthy father get hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, I became more anxious; it seemed like my parents were afraid of the disease but simultaneously thought they were invincible.
When my parents denied the vaccine, they denied the principles of public health
and everything I believe as a health student. I tried hard to understand what they were saying while also helping them to understand the facts. I explained how side effects from the vaccine are signs your body is working properly; how the COVID-19 disease causes a substantial amount of more deaths than from the vaccine; how even if you contract the virus despite getting the highly efficacious vaccine, the symptoms are much less severe. I informed them that the COVID-19 vaccine was evaluated in tens of thousands of clinical trial participants; these vaccines meet FDA's strict scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and production quality, and support emergency use authorization. Additionally, from December 14, 2020 to April 26, 2021, the United States has injected more than 230 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and long-term side effects have not been detected. As of March 25th, 2021, less than .0018% of shot recipients in the US have died sometime afterward; the risk of dying from COVID-19 is clearly greater because as of 4/28/21, there have been 32 million cases with over 570,000 deaths.
But at the end of the day, they never listened to me, their pharmacy student daughter, because “I don’t know any better.”
My frustration led me to talk with one of my professors about how to address vaccine-hesitant patients—specifically vaccine-hesitant parents. She understood my feelings since she dealt with the same problem with her family. Her first recommendation was to not give up; she helped me understand how my parents were not going to change their minds over night. Rather, each time they heard something positive about the vaccine from me or from others, the information would slowly start to sink into their brain. The whole process is like chipping away at an iceberg.
My professor also suggested I bring up some of my parents’ hobbies and use that as a way to motivate them into getting vaccinated. For example, my dad loves traveling and photography, so I explained to him how getting vaccinated would help him do those activities in the future more safely. I reminded him of our life before the pandemic: planning family trips, tanning at the beach without worrying how close we were to other people, waiting in long lines to get on a cruise ship, eating carefreely at our favorite restaurants in Chinatown, and so much more.
My parents finally got their first doses in March. However, this was not just from my persistence; it was due to other people’s words and experiences as well. My dad’s cousin works in drug development, so my dad reached out to him and he helped my dad understand more about how the vaccine works. Whatever information my dad learned, he relayed to my mom, who trusts him dearly. I could tell my parents were starting to think more positively about the vaccine after listening to their relatives.
Because I am not fluent in Mandarin and often do not know what my mom is reading on WeChat, it makes it very difficult for me to understand what facts and fiction she is reading. This battle is especially very hard for me because my mom questions the “mainstream media,” saying that many detrimental vaccine effects and deaths are not reported and that the media is all government propaganda. I understand this thought process is due to her experiences living in communist China, but it’s extremely hard to combat this mindset especially when the news on TV is all in English and she is not fluent in English.
To circumnavigate my language barrier, I do a few different things. I continue to send her English links but translate important facts. I asked a past music teacher of mine who is Chinese and is an employee at my mom’s workplace to send me a message in Mandarin explaining why she got the vaccine, then I relayed that to my mom. My boyfriend’s mother, who is also Chinese and received the vaccination, would also send my mom reliable articles in Chinese and explain what her side effects had been and how long they lasted. In combination with encouragement from other Chinese friends (such as my boyfriend’s mom) and my own efforts to provide reliable in-language facts, I find that my mom has become more receptive to vaccine-positive information.
My mom is ecstatic now that she’s vaccinated. She says if it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t have considered it. She often encourages her other hesitant Chinese friends to get it now and tells them about her transient side effects that seemed very minor compared to actually contracting COVID-19. My dad, on the other hand, is still upset that he got vaccinated because he still feels like he didn’t need to be. Nonetheless, I am relieved that he is protected and can soon enjoy his old activities again.
If you have vaccine-hesitant people in your life, acknowledge their fears, be empathetic, and kindly help them understand the facts. Be patient and with time, they might slowly change their minds as they see everyone else racing to get vaccinated. Keep chipping away at the iceberg.