Talking with patients about the COVID-19 vaccine

While most health care providers who work with individuals with brain injury are not directly involved in immunization programs, the COVID-19 vaccine has become an important topic.

There is a large portion of Canadians that still have not made up their mind about the COVID-19 vaccine. They are in a state called vaccine hesitancy. The Vancouver Sun published an article on how doctors in British Columbia are working together to address vaccine hesitancy in their communities. It highlights that no matter the discipline, health care providers can play a large role in helping a patient come to an informed decision.

When the topic of COVID-19 vaccines is brought up, there are a few things you should keep in mind during the discussion with your patient(s).

Ask open questions to help discover a patient’s views

The topic of vaccination can be a challenging one to bring up without sounding bossy or confrontational. To help you discover a patient’s views and concerns, ask open-ended questions. Some examples include:

  • What are your thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Do you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Are you ready to talk about vaccination?

It can be helpful during these questions to paraphrase the person’s responses, provide praise for the thought they are putting into their decision, and tips for additional protective measures.

Address misinformation

There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines that is circulated on the Internet. Many people may take it as fact, particularly if it comes from a person they trust (like a family member). If COVID-19 vaccine misinformation comes up, it’s important that you address the misinformation.

Ask if you can share information with the patient

When a patient does bring up their concerns or misinformation, ask if they are okay with you sharing information with them. This is when you would be able to provide some fact sheets or refer to research on COVID-19 vaccines.

When sharing information, make sure you use clear, simple and respectful language.

Be empathetic

It’s hard when you care deeply about something, and other people don’t have the same views. Many people are coping with different opinions on vaccinations within their own families.

This can be even harder when you’re a health care professional who sees and knows firsthand the impact of COVID-19. It can feel like a patient doesn’t care or doesn’t understand. And the truth is, they may not fully understand. Or they may have fears/concerns that are very real to them.

It’s important to be empathetic when talking about vaccination. Telling the patient that you understand their concerns can help keep the conversation calm and professional. When you give your recommendation in an empathetic manner, a patient is more likely to take your recommendation seriously.

Be honest about the COVID-19 vaccine

When a patient has a question about side effects or the differences between vaccines, don’t dismiss those fears or say something like ‘the benefits outweigh the risks’ without first addressing their concerns. Use vaccination rates in your area, potential side effects, and any other information that has been made available to you to talk about vaccination with your patient.

Give your recommendation respectfully

As a health care professional, patients look to you for recommendations. But your recommendation shouldn’t sound like a command or disrespect their concerns.

Tell the patient your recommendation respectfully, and if they ask, give them the reasons behind your recommendation.

This may be an opportunity to present your own situation as an example if that’s something you’re comfortable doing. I.e., you can tell them that you got vaccinated and you recommend it to every patient.

Listen to their concerns – and don’t pass judgement

COVID-19 has been incredibly scary for all of us. The vaccines can be equally unsettling for people who don’t understand them; who are scared of needles; or who have concurrent conditions.

You often don’t know what past experiences or influences people have in their lives. These experiences could inform their present reactions and decision-making.

Start by asking your patient if they have considered getting the COVID-19 vaccination (if they haven’t already). If they start sharing their concerns, listen actively and don’t pass judgement. They may not have the same views as you, but that doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t valid.

Take breaks for yourself

When you work in health care, it’s important to take breaks to give yourself some time to recharge. This is particularly true when you’re talking about a subject where people don’t share the same views as you. While the majority of people you speak with will be able to discuss it respectfully, there will be some people who react quite strongly.

While these conversations are important to have with your patients, it is equally important to give yourself a reprieve and engage in some self-care.

Help with next steps for vaccinations

If a patient is ready to take the next step and book a vaccination appointment, make sure they have what they need to do so. This may include informing their caregiver or telling them about the provincial/territorial booking system.