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How to talk to anti-Vaxxers: expert advice

How to talk to anti-Vaxxers: expert advice

Dining keys

  • The anti-vaccination movement has increased in recent years based on unfounded claims that vaccines cause autism and other diseases.
  • If you have a loved one who refuses the vaccine, experts suggest that validating their concerns without judgment before providing data may be a useful way to reach them.

Whoever said «There is no politics or religion on the table» should add the word V. Vaccines can cause a strong response, whether someone is for or against them.

Jessica Steier, DrPH, PMP had these conversations and noted that they can be excruciating. While communication with anti-vaccines is difficult, it is a necessary component of a public health scientist’s job. For most people who are against vaccines, they are determined in their decision. It takes strategic communication to participate, let alone change one’s mind.

Steier, who is the co-host of Podcast Fair Science Much of 2020 has passed to explain skeptics of COVID-19 and the vaccine. She explains her strategy: “First of all, it helps to understand why they oppose vaccination; Is it a misunderstanding of the ingredients? A moral objection to compulsory vaccination? Conspiracy theories stemming from mistrust in the pharmaceutical industry and government?

Instead of bombarding anyone with statistics, he suggests paying attention without prejudice: “Listen first. Remember that not everyone has received scientific training and that social media has given people a false sense of authority and trust. Try to address your specific concerns while you are still aware of these cognitive biases and distortions of science. «

Science is struggling with social networks

The anti-vaccine movement has taken off, which is evident in a Gallup study that found that 84% of parents support vaccines. In 2001, 94% of parents were vaccinated. The decline is observed primarily in less educated groups, and the only group that vaccinates more consistently are those with higher education.

This survey was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic and found that 11% of people consider the vaccine to be more dangerous than the disease. .

A recent Pew Research study explored exactly this and found that only 60% of Americans intend to receive the COVID vaccine. This is an increase from the low number since the beginning of the year. One of the main culprits is social media, which has generated more skepticism about vaccines.

This is evident in a study conducted by the Center for the Fight against Digital Hate (CCDH). According to their research, since June, 425 anti-vax social media accounts have gained almost 877,000 new followers. The study indicates that anti-vax groups are able to take advantage of the collective hesitation, promoting the notion that COVID-19 is not dangerous, but the vaccine is.

Listen first. Remember that not everyone has received scientific training and that social media has given people a false sense of authority and trust.


Some commonly shared ideas include that vaccines are toxic and harmful to the environment, contain cells from aborted fetuses, or can change their DNA. Building an existing fear can be a catalyst for beliefs that defy science and logic.

The anti-vaxx space has sown distrust in practitioners who believe in vaccines and promote homeopathic remedies, such as inhaling hydrogen peroxide and calling it «H2O2 nebulization.» CCDH reports that anti-vax pages take place for these concerns in a way that pro-vaccination spaces do not, and that the choice of words can change the trajectory of a productive conversation.

People often visit these YouTube pages and sites for alternatives, which they don’t get from people who are in favor of vaccination.

What would a psychologist do?

Steier’s strategy for discussing vaccines is one that the psychologist Xialou Jiang, PhD, Approves . She explains that these methods have their roots in the psychology of persuasion and that two-way calling works well when you are against those who disagree with you.

«It can be useful from the beginning to go in the opposite direction and then present your argument. You have to be aware of their argument and validate any truth in these arguments, «says Jiang.

It can be helpful in advance to address the opposite side and then present your argument. You want to be aware of your argument and validate any truth in these arguments.


I think there are many well-founded concerns and an understandable reluctance about the covid vaccine, especially among the Hispanic and black population. I think if I talked to someone with these concerns, I would validate it 100%. For example, you can say «yes, we are all concerned about what we inject into our body».

Jiang also says that the message and the way it is presented will change depending on the person you are talking to. «Would I say that the first thing is to get to know your audience, meaning the person you’re talking to tends to be more emotional or more logical about vaccines?» She points out that meeting someone who has had side effects can easily influence someone’s opinion, or even the general belief in «personal autonomy».

«I also found that using the word ‘but’ can immediately put someone on the defensive when they know you’re trying to convince them of something.» She recommends: “Try to use a lot of connected phrases like“ at the same time … ”or“ Can we look at it from this angle …? ””

What does this mean for you?

Part of a conversation with an anti-vaccine friend is knowing when to move it. Jiang explains that in the case of vaccines, most people are unfortunately determined for or against, and if someone has opposed vaccines for years, they may not be available. For the sake of your health, evaluate when they don’t listen to you and move on..