I got the COVID vaccine the moment it was available to me. I was the opposite of vaccine-hesitant. You could say I was vaccine-enthusiastic. To my surprise, I cried actual tears of joy and relief when I walked out of the building after the first dose. I’m not usually a weeper, but I couldn’t believe my good luck. While other people were fighting for spots, staying up until midnight to try to scoop up an appointment, I was able to get a vaccine very early on.
Unfortunately, that’s because I live in a blue state and our vaccination rate is shockingly low. While people in other parts of the country clamored for a vaccine appointment, an embarrassing number of people around me railed against the jab. Many more were terrified by the onslaught of misinformation that raged around them on a daily basis making the vaccine seem like a death sentence instead of the life-saving measure it is proving to be.
My three closest friends were part of that vaccine-hesitant group.
They all had different reasons. Past medical trauma. Misplaced confidence in their ability to fight COVID on their own. Abusive religious pasts that make them doubt themselves when they take any measure that requires them to admit that they are acting out of fear (even if that fear is because of a virus that has killed more people than the 1918 Influenza pandemic.)
Like most of us, they also have insufficient science knowledge to discern vaccine fact from anti-vax fiction.
One friend expressed that her only reservation was that the vaccine was politicized. Her mistrust of politicians and their motives made her feel damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. She just couldn’t pull the proverbial trigger without anxiety and apprehension.
It’s been hard for me to watch my vaccine-hesitant friends remain unprotected while a pandemic ebbs and flows around us. When Delta hit, I really started to panic. My beautiful, vibrant friends were leaving themselves at risk, and the idea of losing one of them gutted me.
This is not about politics for me.
This is not about proving a point or winning some stubborn argument of opposing opinions.
It’s about all the 40th birthday celebrations we have planned in the next couple of years.
It’s about the family vacations and graduation parties and promposals we have already begun to organize.
I want my girlfriends to be vaccinated so that I never have to help one of their devastated husbands choose the best photo for their funeral program or the right dress for their wake.
We have plans. Too many to risk losing one of us if we could have done something to make that less likely. We are supposed to be the four musketeers for the rest of forever.
It’s possible that a tragedy will befall our chosen family at some point, and I don’t even want to think about that. If something unavoidable happens, we will cross that bridge arm in arm as we always do.
But a tragic COVID death is one kind that we can almost certainly avoid just by choosing two tiny needle pricks in the arm. Overwhelmingly, the science points to survival for the vast majority of otherwise healthy vaccinated people.
How could I ever live with myself if I didn’t speak up and one of my vaccine-hesitant friends lost her life to this vicious virus?
So, I started speaking up. I never pressured them to get the vaccine, and I never treated them poorly for not having it already. I shared my experience, reassuring them that I had no lingering effects. When they had questions, I sent them articles about the effectiveness of the options we have available right now. I answered quickly, always pointing them back to an expert. Not a random doctor or nurse I happened to know, but articles and social media posts by people who study and specialize in vaccine development and safety.
As they explored the option of possibly taking the vaccine, I was gentle with them. I never pushed them, but I did share my desire for them to be vaccinated. I told them how much I loved them, and made it clear that I only wanted to see them safe and protected. As the timeline for vaccinating children grows closer, I’ve voiced my excitement about choosing that layer of protection for my kids.
I voiced my desire to see them all get the vaccine, but I always treated them with kindness and respect throughout the months.
One by one, they’ve all come around. Is that all me? Of course not! They all have various reasons, ranging from their desire to admitted to vaccine-dependent places to work mandates to simple increased confidence. But did I help? I absolutely did. By choosing to be an encouraging voice and never belittling their concerns, I created one more positive association with the vaccine for them to consider when making their decision.
Every last one of them is now either vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or has their appointments scheduled.
My girls are all going to be a little safer within a matter of weeks. I am thrilled and relieved.
We are all sick to death of vocal anti-vaxxers and COVID deniers and conspiracy theorists of all kinds.
I get it. I have wanted to lightly strangle a social media personality or two when they start spouting off some anti-science BS.
But a lot of unvaccinated people aren’t anti-vaxxers. They’re not trying to convince anyone else not to take the shot, and they don’t think the shot is poison. They’re just vaccine-hesitant. Afraid. Confused. This is an unprecedented global health crisis, and you can’t blame laypeople for being really overwhelmed by all the information coming at them every single day.
You catch more flies with honey, and you convince more vaccine-hesitant people to vaccinate by showing them a little patience and kindness.
I’m so glad I didn’t get snarky or voice my frustration with them. Keeping my cool helped me convince them to add a tally mark to their pros list instead of their cons list. When it comes to the vaccine, late is much, much better than never.
If you’re not protected yet, today is the best day to change that. Your people need you to stick around.