In the same breath as discussing politics and religion, discussing vaccinations at the dinner table is strictly forbidden. Whether you’re for or against vaccinations, you can have strong feelings about COVID-19 immunizations.

The job of a public health scientist includes the challenging but essential task of engaging in conversation with anti-vaxxers. Most people who have decided to take a stand against vaccinations do so firmly. Effective communication is essential for gaining anyone’s attention, let alone sway their opinion.

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It’s important to get to the bottom of their anti-vaccine stance, which may stem from misunderstanding the contents. A principled disagreement with mandatory vaccination? Theories of government and pharmaceutical companies being covered up?

If you really want to help someone, just listen to them without passing judgment. One should listen before acting. Keep in mind that not everyone has formal scientific training and that the proliferation of information and opinions on social media has given many an inflated sense of self-importance. Be conscious of these cognitive biases and scientific distortions when you try to answer their specific problems.

There is a war between science and social media.

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Despite the fact that 84% of parents believe vaccines are necessary, a recent Gallup poll shows that anti-vaxxers are making headway. Around 94% of 2001 parents felt immunizations were important for their kids. The reduction is particularly pronounced among the least educated, and the only demographic more likely to get vaccinated regularly are those with Ph.D. degrees or higher.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a poll indicated that 11% of respondents believed that vaccination itself posed a greater risk than the sickness it was designed to prevent. Vaccines are poisonous and bad for the environment, include cells from aborted babies, and can alter your genetic code, to name a few of the many myths that circulate about them. Anxiety is a fertile ground for the development of irrational beliefs.

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The anti-vaccine movement has been spreading mistrust of medical professionals by advocating unproven treatments like hydrogen peroxide inhalation, which they refer to as “H2O2 nebulization.” According to the CCDH, those worries are better heard on anti-vax pages than on pro-vax ones, and the CCDH also notes that the choice of words can significantly affect the course of a fruitful discussion.

Commonly, viewers are looking for alternatives, which they won’t obtain from pro-vaccine advocates, and so they turn to the aforementioned channels and websites.

The Question: What Would a Psychologist Recommend?

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The aforementioned approach to talking about vaccines is one that the psychologist strongly endorses. These strategies originate from the science of persuasion, demonstrating that the two-pronged approach is most effective when arguing with opponents with opposing viewpoints.

When presenting your argument, it can be helpful to first acknowledge the other viewpoint. Be aware of their argument and verify any validity in it.

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Both the content and delivery of the message will vary from listener to listener. It’s important to first gauge whether or not the individual you’re speaking with has a more emotive or rational approach to the topic of vaccines. A person’s view, or even their belief in “personal autonomy,” might be easily influenced by knowing someone who has had a negative reaction.

A common pitfall of persuasion is the use of the word “but,” which can immediately put your opponent on the defensive. Use a lot of transitional words and phrases like “at the same time” and “Can we look at it from this angle?”

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Knowing when to have a talk with a buddy who is anti-vaxx is important. Unfortunately, most people’s minds are made up about vaccines, says Jiang; they’re either for or against them. If someone has been against vaccines for a long time, Jiang says, it may be impossible to change their mind. Recognize when you’re not being heard and move on before you lose your mind.

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