This Thanksgiving, Here's Some Tips for Talking to Unvaxxed Family about Getting the Jab

Avoid judging your unvaccinated loved ones this Thanksgiving.
Avoid judging your unvaccinated loved ones this Thanksgiving. Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash
Thanksgiving dinner conversations are notorious for being, well, a bit awkward. God forbid the subject turns to politics — or your Uncle Harold gets too sloshed again.

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, the holiday conversation could veer toward another hot-button issue: Whether everyone has gotten the jab. Here are some tips on how to encourage vaccine holdouts to sign up.

Approach difficult conversations with empathy, said Keva Ward, a senior trainer at Safe Conversations, a Dallas-based organization that offers communication and relationship workshops.

It’s a good idea to pay attention to your body language, such as posture, breathing and eye contact, Ward said in a news release. To convey safety, ground yourself by taking some deep breaths and softening your gaze. Make sure to keep an appropriate distance, too, so that they don’t feel cornered or trapped.

Next, ask your loved one whether now would be a good time to talk about vaccines, she added, and be straightforward about the subject matter.

“Being vague feels ‘sneaky’ and can put your loved one in a negative state of mind,” Ward said. “Asking if now is a good time is simply a way of honoring their boundaries.”

Remember that your job isn’t to persuade but rather to listen so that you can better understand your loved one’s point of view, Ward said. Really hear what they have to say and “accept them as a valid human being.” If they double down on refusing the jab, then you should consider how you’ll hang out with them moving forward.

“After you’ve listened to them, validated their experiences, and treated them with empathy, they are much more likely to do the same for you." –Keva Ward, certified senior trainer

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It’s important for people to ask their loved one how they formed their opinions instead of judging them, she said. Learning about their life experiences and validating them can help you empathize with their feelings.

Ward also says it’s a good idea to ask whether they want to hear your opinion before launching into an unsolicited lecture.

“After you’ve listened to them, validated their experiences, and treated them with empathy, they are much more likely to do the same for you and give you the same respect,” she said. “If they agree to hear you, calmly share your opinion and your reasons for feeling that way.”

If your unvaxxed loved one still refuses, then see whether you can reach a sort of compromise, Ward said. Wearing masks around one another or pivoting to virtual hangouts are options, but both parties should feel supported in whatever they decide.

Keep in mind that you may not reach an agreement, but that’s all right, she continued: “The point is to connect beyond your differences, which you attempted to do by listening without judgment and talking without criticism.”

Dr. Tiffany Kindratt, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington, agrees that it’s important to learn the reason behind someone’s vaccine hesitancy.

Some people may not support vaccinations in general, but others could be afraid of potential side effects, she said. Finding out what’s giving them pause could equip you to present them with reputable sources to dispel their fears.

You may be able to ease their worries by sharing your own experiences with side effects, or lack thereof, Kindratt said. The state’s health department even launched a campaign covering vaccine-hesitant Texans who eventually chose to get inoculated.

There are also videos depicting doctors who were hesitant at first, too, she added: “But then ultimately, they trust the science in the end.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter