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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietySeptember 22, 2021

How to talk to loved ones who are vaccine hesitant

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Approach the conversation not with anger and frustration, but with patience, respect and aroha, advises Kate Hannah.

The team of 1.7 million – that’s the good people of Tāmaki Makaurau – and our wider teammates across Aotearoa need to get vaccinated, if they can. We need to do this so we can all be together to mourn, to celebrate, to remember, and to share each other’s joys and sadnesses, as whānau and friends do. A dear friend’s mother passed last week: I want you to get vaccinated so that I can hug my friend, take her a meal, and attend a memorial service for a well-lived life. So that her brother, who lives overseas, can return to Aotearoa with his family, to mourn a much-loved mother together with others who knew and loved her.

The vaccine is available for all in Aotearoa who are aged over 12. All around the motu, vaccine centres, GP clinics, and pharmacies are serving their communities, with seamless processes in place even at elevated alert levesl. But many of your – of my, of our – friends and whānau who are yet to be vaccinated are unsure. It might seem to you that uncertainty is ridiculous or even stupid when we can all see what is happening in countries where the unvaccinated are being hospitalised and dying. The pandemic in the United States is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But the uncertainty of your friends and your whānau is being manipulated. On social media platforms, in group messaging apps, in the comments sections, on fliers dropped into people’s letterboxes, and in material posted on walls, your loved ones are having misinformation thrown at them – about the vaccine, about the virus itself, and about Aotearoa’s response to the pandemic.

People are tired and scared. It’s the time of year when we all yearn for the sun, for the warmth that awakens winter-tired bones and bodies, that promises the joys of a long New Zealand summer. You, the person who is likely already vaccinated, are worried that this might slip out of reach because of those in your life who are not yet vaccinated. But telling them off or furiously bombarding them with “here are the facts” – you know this isn’t the way to open up such an important conversation.

So how? How do we talk, right now, about something so important, when we’re all rundown and worn out and filled with fear?

Take a moment – start with yourself. A deep breath in, a deep breath out. Put down the device you’re reading this on. Go outside, if you can. Breathe in and out again, connect yourself to the place where you stand: notice what you can see, hear, smell, feel. Do this until you feel calm – or at least calmer.

Then, in this state, connected to where you are, reach out to the person you love who might be listening to misinformation. Check in with them – how have they slept? Do they need a feed? Have they had a glass of water? Sort out their immediate needs. When they are rested, loved, fed – then you can ask them about the stuff they’re sharing or listening to. This has to start with your relationship with them, the aroha you share: “I saw you shared X. Can you tell me about that? What about it resonates with you? I’ve got some other thoughts, but I really want to hear yours first.”

Keep the conversation going. Keep checking in with them. Don’t just talk to them about the misinformation you’re concerned about. Be in a relationship with them. Be their loved one. Play a game online with them, do a Zoom drink, find a daily quiz to share, or a reason to ask them for their scone recipe. Remind them of what you mean to each other, and share why you have chosen to get vaccinated. It’s together that we’ll come out into the sunshine, together that we will be able to gather and laugh and weep and share the things that make us a community, a friend group, a whānau. Together.

Keep going!