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How to encourage others to get the vaccine: Above all, listen

“When I reach out to people about the COVID-19 vaccine and they tell me they’re not planning to take it or they’re going to wait, I always start with ‘Tell me more about that.’”

A child watches as a nurse administers a shot of COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination event on Monday in Louisville, Kentucky.
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You might be surprised to learn that encouraging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine actually starts with your ears.

As with most issues, people want to be heard. When I reach out to people about the COVID-19 vaccine and they tell me they are not planning to take it or they are going to wait, I always start with “Tell me more about that…Let’s talk a bit more…” What I am finding is if you meet people where they are, and then listen, you often can find the kernel of their truth from which you can empathize, educate and hopefully convert.

It isn’t really about fliers or posters or TV coverage or memes when it comes to addressing vaccine hesitancy. It’s about one-on-one, grassroots, boots-on-the-ground dialogue to build understanding, hope and, ultimately, trust.

It doesn’t sound easy or fast because it is not. But it is worth it to save lives.

We all know the whole world turned upside down over the past 14 months. Never have we lived with so much that is unknown and unprecedented and uncertain. Every one of us has been impacted in some way — some in absolutely devastating ways — but all of us profoundly. Death and sickness, job loss and isolation, missing people, missing purpose, missing life as we used to know it… it all has been very difficult on so many levels. We prayed for normal, then we prayed for a “new normal,” and sometimes we just prayed.

As a chief nursing officer, I have witnessed some of the pandemic’s devastation firsthand. There really is great joy in caring for people, helping people feel better especially at what might be the most frightening and vulnerable time in their lives. It sounds trite, but I truly believe it’s a calling to be at the bedside and bring people relief and comfort. You know you can really make a difference in someone’s life.

That’s why this vaccine is so important to me. I know it will make a difference and have a critically important impact on people’s lives and health.

From crisis is born innovation. But when doubt and concern enter the picture, sometimes the better approach is more basic and familiar.

For instance, along with mega-sites like the United Center and City Colleges, the City of Chicago also has been hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics in more than 70 houses of worship over the next month and going deep into communities through Protect Chicago Plus. Earlier this year, we invited 120 faith leaders from all over the West Side to come to our hospital and get their shots because we knew the impact they could have in their congregations. Trusted messengers matter, and familiar spaces that are easy to get to will only help people feel more confident in taking the shot.

To build herd immunity is a humongous task but if we all take it in small bites, we can turn the tide. Here are a few things everyone can do to help bring people along:

1. Start in your home and work outward. Talk with family and friends. Talk to your neighbors, at church, at the barber shop.

2. Share why you did it — why you got the shot — and how we can all work together to make everyone healthier.

3. Have questions? Get that knowledge through trusted resources and websites — your clinic, your hospital, the Centers for Disease Control. Ask a nurse.

4. Take it personally. This is everybody’s mission, everyone’s priority to help individuals wherever they are in their understanding of the shot and its safety.

5. Remind people that while the vaccine development was indeed fast, no steps were skipped or corners cut when it came to the safety and efficacy of its protection.

6. Help people navigate how and where to get the vaccine. Make it easy to book that appointment and even offer to drive!

7. Check on older people and the homebound, and connect them to resources through Rush, other hospitals, or the city, county and state health departments.

8. Talk to communities who are reticent and let them tell you what works best. Invite the conversation; no idea is too silly or too small.

9. Break down barriers — language barriers, physical barriers, mental/emotional barriers — the easier we can make getting vaccinated, the better.

Many of us have felt helpless for far too long. If you convert one person, you have potentially saved their life. And, if we each do our part, imagine the ripple effect.

Angelique Richard, PhD, RN, CENP, has served as the chief nursing officer at Rush University Medical Center since 2016 and for the Rush System since 2018. She is also the senior vice president of hospital operations and oversees COVID vaccination operations for Rush.

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