At MVEC we strongly encourage people to seek answers to their questions and to be well informed with evidence-based information. We know that nearly half of all parents have some concerns about immunising their children, ranging from minor concerns to more serious degrees of vaccine hesitancy. Many people also have questions about COVID-19 vaccines for themselves and their families.

There is a lot of information available to people, particularly on the internet, which can be quite overwhelming. There is also a lot of misinformation, and conspiracy theories, and it can be hard to know which information sources to trust and what is true. Research suggests that information alone is not enough to address people’s concerns about immunisation, even when it comes from recommended sources. That is because vaccine conversations matter, and how we discuss vaccines is often just as important as what information is shared.

Talking to people who have questions about vaccines

One of the most effective strategies to address people’s questions and concerns about vaccines is through a discussion with a trusted health care provider like a GP, nurse, paediatrician or midwife. Effective conversations are non-judgemental and help guide people towards accepting vaccination.

Having a combative conversation with a person who has questions about vaccines is never helpful. If possible, try to work out where the person may sit on the vaccine hesitency spectrum. They may have only minor concerns, more serious concerns or they may refuse vaccines all together. This often becomes apparent quite quickly as you start the conversation and helps you tailor your conversation accordingly.

Here are the key steps to have an effective vaccine conversation:

1. Find out all of the person’s questions and concerns

  • Start with an open-ended question, like “What concerns do you have?”
  • Try to just listen and not jump in and correct their beliefs straight away. This is what we call “resisting the righting reflex”
  • Encourage them to share all their concerns before you start responding. They may even mention their most important concern last.
  • At this point, once they have had a chance to list their concerns, summarise them to check your understanding.

2. Acknowledge concerns and share knowledge

  • Not everyone is “vaccine hesitant”. Having questions is very normal, especially with the newer COVID-19 vaccines. People are likely to be more receptive to what you have to say if you acknowledge their concerns without judgement.
  • It is helpful to ask if you can share what you know about vaccine safety and effectiveness and provide some good resources and information. Try to keep your explanations clear and check for understanding.
  • At this point, it is good to reinforce their motivation to accept vaccination.

3. Discuss disease severity

  • It is always good to bring the discussion back to centre on disease severity, rather than focusing exclusively on the vaccines. This reminds people why we are vaccinating and reinforces the benefit.

4. Recommend vaccination

  • Lastly, make a clear and strong recommendation to have the vaccine(s). This reinforces the importance of vaccination and clearly shows that you believe this is the best way to protect the person against vaccine preventable diseases.
  • If it is possible and the person is willing, deliver the vaccine(s) or explain where they need to go to receive them.

5. Continue the conversation

  • If the person is not yet ready to accept vaccination, keep the communication open and invite them back at a later time to continue the conversation.

Talking with friends and family can also have an influence on people’s vaccine hesitancy. If you’re someone who wants to encourage others to vaccinate, you can take some of the strategies we recommend for healthcare providers into your discussions with people in your life.

This seems obvious, but the best approach is not to judge people, correct them, or jump into battle. This just entrenches people’s beliefs and makes them defensive. And they probably won’t trust you or want to talk to you openly about this topic anymore!



How to tackle misinformation

We’ve all heard people spreading misinformation and myths about vaccines. While it can be tempting to try to correct misinformation whenever you hear it, this can actually give the issue more oxygen. But if you notice that misinformation is spreading widely and beginning to affect people’s vaccination behaviour, it may be time to step in.

If an individual is spreading misinformation, try to speak with them privately. It’s not effective to have a public debate, either in person or online. Acknowledge the emotion and try to look for the truth together.

If you are debunking a particular myth, start by clearly restating the truth. Then, explain why the myth is untrue, and provide an alternative explanation for what the person is experiencing.

For example, if someone believes that the flu vaccine gives them the flu because they feel sick after the vaccine, it’s not enough to simply tell them that is untrue. Explain why this is untrue – the vaccine contains a killed virus that cannot cause the flu. Then follow this with an alternative explanation for the person’s symptoms – this is your body generating an immune response to the vaccine, and these symptoms are much more mild and brief than actual flu symptoms.

Finally, end by restating the truth. People remember what we say first and last, and what we say more than once. Make sure it’s the truth and not the myth that sticks in their minds.




Talking to people who have concerns

Communicating about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine safety

Addressing misinformation or talking about vaccination in online forums

Authors: Margie Danchin (Senior Research Fellow, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute) and Rachael McGuire (SAEFVIC Research Nurse, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Reviewed by: Margie Danchin (Group Leader, Vaccine Uptake Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute) and Jess Kaufman (Research Fellow, Vaccine Uptake Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Date: June 2021

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family’s personal health. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult a healthcare professional.