“Many people in rural and conservative areas remain frustratingly resistant to vaccination, challenging public health officials to come up with more convincing — and sensitive — approaches to promoting greater vaccine uptake,” Beth Howard reports for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “It’s not enough to refute misinformation, experts say. To reach the vaccine-hesitant, public health officials urge a combination of approaches, from connecting with local physicians to having respectful conversations.”
Rural emergency medicine doctor Edwin Leap, who grew up in West Virginia, told Howard that the pandemic has exposed cultural rifts that go back generations. Because of that, mandates won’t work, he said: “People in rural America are a culture. They tend to be fiercely independent … The very last way you’ll get them to comply is by telling them they better do what’s right. They’re not going to have you tell them what to do.”
- Just provide the facts. Rural Americans resist mandates because they want to make their own decisions. So providing unbiased, basic information that will help them make an informed decision is the way to go.
- Leave politics at the door. The coronavirus has been deeply politicized, so it’s important to avoid saying anything even remotely political in discussion vaccination. One expert told Howard that, if the subject of politics comes up, the best way to respond is something along the lines of “This virus does not care who you are or what you believe.” That removes the discussion from politics and enables you to address the other person’s concerns.
- Ally with community influencers. Rural Americans trust local health-care professionals much more than outsiders, so they’re more likely to listen to fact-based vaccine recommendations from a community doctor, nurse, pharmacist or community health worker.
- Don’t refute false claims about the vaccines. By bringing up misinformation, even if you do so to disprove it, you end up reinforcing the belief in the person’s mind. So don’t repeat falsehoods when providing vaccine information. “For instance, if someone says that vaccines give you Covid-19, you don’t have to say they don’t give you Covid-19,” Howard reports. “Instead, provide an answer that addresses the vaccine’s overall safety — why and how they’re safe.”
- Treat people with care and respect. Regardless of what someone believes, take their concerns seriously and treat them with respect. Don’t talk down to people or make them feel judged or shamed.
- Be prepared to play the long game. It will likely take more than one conversation to change someone’s mind about vaccination. When you’re wrapping up a discussion about vaccination, “give them a call to action, such as offering additional resources to learn about the efficacy of the vaccine and inviting them to come back and talk about it more so that you can answer any other questions,” Howard reports.