How to talk to friends and family who are unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Some Australians feel hesitant about getting vaccinated. Here's how to talk to them.

Some Australians feel hesitant about getting vaccinated. Here's how to talk to them. Photo: Getty

Uncle Pete says the COVID vaccine came so fast, how could they have done the proper checks and balances?

In a Facebook group, Tracey argues you can’t trust the vaccine and claims it causes autism.

At the dog park, David tells you he is worried about blood clots.

As the COVID-19 vaccine is slowly rolled out, these interactions can feel overly common. 

There are some Australians who feel hesitant to get vaccinated, Professor Julie Leask, a social scientist at The University of Sydney and expert on public attitude toward vaccines told The New Daily.

“And they are critical to universal immunisation. They are the tipping point between us controlling COVID-19 and not,” Professor Leask said.

Although the rates of vaccine hesitancy fluctuate, right now research shows 65 per cent of Australians are ready to have the vaccine, 22 per cent are hesitant and 13 per cent say they won’t get it, Professor Leask said.

How quickly it took to make the vaccine, mixed with the intense media interest and the uncertainty the pandemic brings, means it’s only natural people would have questions or be unsure about getting the jab, she said.

“There are different reasons for being hesitant. Vaccine safety is a big consideration, mistrust of government, not believing COVID is a serious threat,” Professor Leask said.

But just because someone has concerns over vaccine safety doesn’t necessarily mean they are an “anti-vaxxer” or deny science, so how you talk to them matters.

If you encounter a person with fixed views, who is sure they know the “real science”, the best course of action is to take no action, Professor Leask said.

“Be strategic, learn to let go, you’re never going to win that battle,” she said.

“You’ll play scientific ping-pong, hitting evidence back and forth.”

So how do you handle having a respectful conversation with someone who seems to be expressing some concerns?

Here is a quick guide:


In the current situation, it is not surprising conversations about vaccines can be highly emotive. Some people are scared of the vaccine and others are scared of them not getting it.

Remember, hesitancy does not mean outright denial and to listen to their concerns, Professor Leask advised.

“It is important to acknowledge a bit of hesitancy about a new vaccine, developed in record time, is normal and understandable and something we can address,” she said.

“Start by asking the person what concerns they have, what experiences they bring to their views. Then acknowledge and validate them as a person.”


Understanding why they are worried and acknowledging the amount of misinformation currently circulating is the best way to start these conversations, Professor Leask said.

“We’re still learning about these vaccines. There are question marks, we can’t gloss over them,” she said.

Find the motivators

“Try to work with [someone’s] motivations to get vaccinated,” Professor Leask said.

“It’s about figuring out where that motivation could come from, and asking them ‘what’s your plan if there’s an outbreak?’ ‘Do you worry about your friends and family?’ to get them thinking about the contribution they can make.

“Always pivot to why we vaccinate, to see loved ones reunited, that we want to see economies thrive again so people can live quality lives.”

And if you feel yourself getting angry? Breathe.

“If you feel yourself differing from someone and you feel yourself getting frustrated then just hold tight and sit with those feelings for a moment,” Professor Leask said.

“Figure out a strategy: What’s my conversation goal here? Are we just going to end up in an argument? Or am I going to stay calm and try and have a constructive conversation?”

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