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Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy Isn't A One Size Fits All Approach

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Even though vaccinations are picking up here and people are dreaming of putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror, the fact is that many people will still be at risk until we can reach herd immunity, meaning that enough people are vaccinated so that infections are extremely low, and outbreaks can be contained. And that's why getting people who are hesitant to get the jab has become the focus of a lot of government attention. The fact is that there are people from all walks of life and backgrounds who are worried about being vaccinated for COVID-19. And a message to inform them of the benefits is not a one-size-fits-all. We're joined now by Dr. Jorge Moreno. He's an internist and assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine. Welcome to the program.

JORGE MORENO: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've confronted this problem in your own family. Can you tell us about what happened?

MORENO: Yes, my mother had some hesitations about whether the vaccine would give her COVID-19 or whether it would interact with her diabetes. And so I had a couple of initial conversations - and the first conversation was short and was more like, I'm going to wait and see how things go. And then soon after, my sister and I and other people in the family really got her on the same page. We were able to get her scheduled, and she was glad to make that decision. And it was on her time and when she felt comfortable with that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did you start that conversation? Because it can be tricky. You know, people don't want to feel like you're lecturing them.

MORENO: Yeah, exactly. And I think that's the key. You don't - can't start the conversation with, like, a must or requirement. A simple question is, what are your concerns? Or why do you hesitate? Those really are open-ended questions that will give you their reason why they don't want to do this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Should we all be trying to convince the vaccine-hesitant people that we know in our lives? I mean, people are more likely to trust people they know giving them information than even government officials or senior medical officials. They trust the people that are in their community.

MORENO: I think it definitely can't hurt to have the conversation from your friends or relatives, especially if they've had the vaccine. You know, you can give them your own personal experience, and it gives them a - kind of a reality check. But I try not to focus on all the medical jargon out there and I try to really just hone in on what they are concerned about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, this brings me to my next point, which is, you know, the reasons for vaccine hesitancy are so varied across different groups. When it comes to Latinos or other people of color, some may not want it because of misinformation they've been targeted with. We've seen, obviously, Republican men much more hesitant than other groups to get the vaccine. That might be because of political ideology. How tailored do these conversations need to be? Because it can't just be a one-size-fits-all, can it?

MORENO: You're absolutely right. And that, again, brings back to the original point. Listen to where the concerns are. You address it. And if you have that information, you can provide to them - no, you know, my doctor told me this. Or I read on CDC website that that's incorrect. And make it into a friendly conversation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But we've also seen sort of icons of certain community also express vaccine hesitancy, sort of peddling misinformation. I'm thinking, of course, of Pitbull as one example. That's got to be quite hurtful to the cause of getting people vaccinated because, you know, celebrities are influencers.

MORENO: Absolutely. You have to really understand and appreciate where you're the information is coming from, right? And so what I did personally was go read the clinical studies, you know, make sure that they included people of all races and that the efficacy was shown to be equitable. You really got to go back to who's providing that information. Is it your doctor? Is it a public health official? Is it a hospital website? The CDC? Those are the sources that you really want to try.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How urgent is this in your view? Because we are seeing just the rollout really speeding up now, but the fact of the matter is that it's going to get to a certain point where we really have to get as many people vaccinated as possible to just put a lid on this thing, right?

MORENO: Absolutely. And right now, we're not only facing a rollout of the vaccine, but we're also facing new variants that are much more infectious and much more severe. And so, you know, I've worked on the COVID units. I was just there in March. And people are still getting sick - very sick. And most recently, it's the younger population because the younger population is not yet vaccinated. So, yes, the drop-off of the elderly has been significant. And we can see the direct effect of vaccination in them already. So we really need to get a handle of this in order to get ahead of the variants and in order to get ahead of the pandemic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Jorge Moreno is an internist and assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine. Thank you very much.

MORENO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN CARROLL KIRBY'S "HUMID MOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.