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How to talk about the COVID vaccine with friends and family

As frustrating as it can be, an expert said a simple starting point is to go into the conversation with respect.

MINNEAPOLIS — Many of us are having them: conversations about COVID-19 vaccines. It can get awkward and be downright frustrating, but there are ways to make sure these important talks don’t go south.

William Doherty, a professor with the Department of Family Social Science College of Education and Human Development and the co-founder of Braver Angels, a nonprofit that brings people of different political affiliations together, helps us out. 

Doherty said the simple starting point to make sure there’s calm in the chat is respect.

"It’s important not to just try to overwhelm somebody with what you consider the truth even if it’s probably the truth," he said. "Everybody has reasons to get the vaccine or not and they’re largely based on their perceptions of their own risks," Doherty said. "We are much more apt to hear 'I’m worried for you' than we are 'you’re wrong,'" he said.

We all know there’s so much information out there, and some of it is wrong.

To be clear, top health experts and the CDC say the vaccines available in the U.S. are effective in reducing the risk of COVID-19 and its potentially severe complications. The CDC said so far, studies that have looked at how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions have shown that these vaccines are working well. 

But Doherty said approach conversations about misinformation with caution.

"You can talk about your concerns for misinformation, but do it personally," he said. "Don’t sound like you’re a journalism professor to your friend or your relatives," Doherty said. "But the thing is to be prepared not to jump down their throat as soon as they say well they heard it on Facebook or something like that."

Here are three tips:

  1. Try to stay calm
  2. Say what your sources are and why you trust them
  3. Tell your story, that is more powerful than attacking someone’s sources

"We’re not two epidemiologists in a debate here, we’re two people who know each other maybe care for each other and so tell your story," Doherty said.

He said ultimately, understand it is their choice.

"If you’re gonna challenge somebody about their health decision making make sure you emphasize that you understand that it’s their decision," he said.

Doherty also said people are in an evolution of thinking. That means you can always return to a conversation with what he calls a “soft start-up.” Phrases like 'I know we talked before and haven’t always agreed. But I’m just checking in on where you are now.'

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