Holiday Survival Guide: How to Talk about Vaccines with Vaccine-Hesitant Relatives


No one wants a holiday ruined with a big argument, but if you have a vaccine-hesitant relative, it’s hard to let the comments slide. So, how can you be a vaccine advocate and keep the peace around the table? Follow these steps to engage your vaccine-hesitant relatives and still make it to dessert in one piece.

Set realistic goals
It’s important to know just how vaccine hesitant your relatives are. Is your cousin just having a few doubts? Or is your aunt dead-set on keeping her kids unvaccinated? Knowing where your relatives stand will help you keep your goals realistic. You might not be able to reverse someone’s opinion in one night; understanding that will save everyone some headaches. If someone’s mind is not going to change, the goal should be to keep the door open for future discussions.

Have a discussion, not an argument
And the word discussion is key. Attacking your brother for his opinion doesn’t make for a pleasant holiday or effective vaccine advocacy. Asking open-ended questions (that will guide them towards a pro-vaccine standpoint) will make your relatives feel respected and appreciated—and ultimately more receptive to your message.

Be armed with relevant, high-quality information
Try to find out what your relatives’ vaccine concerns are beforehand. That way, you can prepare information that is targeted towards their worries. Is there a specific vaccine they have issues with? Research its safety, efficacy, and side effects. Is there a certain vaccine myth they find especially compelling? Understand where the misconception comes from and what the truth of the matter is. If you address their specific concerns, they will know that they’re being listened to; that way everyone’s less likely to lose their temper.

Be armed with emotionally compelling stories
Consider telling the story of Megan, a young mother, who took her baby to the pediatrician—where the infant caught measles in the waiting room. A routine doctors visit (to protect her child’s health) turned into a painful battle with a preventable disease. This is an emotional issue for many, and stories like Megan’s can be just as helpful as accurate science in convincing vaccine hesitant individuals. In addition to reliable info, ShotByShot.Org has a number of personal stories that show how real people are affected by vaccine-preventable diseases.

Keep your cool
These conversations can be frustrating. You might not be able to convince your relatives of much, and it can be hard not to get angry when that happens. But blowing up at your relatives will not only make for a tense celebration, it can also leave them even more entrenched in their position than they were before. Showing that you know what you’re talking about, can have a calm discussion, and share some cranberry sauce with them? That might get you somewhere.

Have you had these conversations with your friends and family? What strategies, studies, or stories have you found the most helpful? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Read more about vaccine myths and advocacy:

Protect Those Who Can’t Get Vaccinated: A Holiday-Season Guide

Skipping the Flu Shot? We Bust the Top Excuses

Separating Fact From Fiction: 4 Signs an Immunization Site Is Spreading Misinformation

8 Excuses for Skipping the HPV Vaccine: Debunked

One thought on “Holiday Survival Guide: How to Talk about Vaccines with Vaccine-Hesitant Relatives

  1. My aunt is very anti Western medicine and that includes a strong opposition of vaccines. When I saw her last time I came home to visit, she had become very interested in essential oils and had obtained some type of certification in the use of them for specific ailments. I see no reason why these natural, Easter or homeopathic methods can not be used in combination or to augment that of what we use in traditional medicine. I asked her for help when my dad was having headaches and an RA flair up. She gave me some oils that did help manage the symptoms and I made sure I let her know how much I appreciated her expertise and help. A day or so later she and I were visiting and I said, ” You know I really respect the knowledge you have gained in the use of the oils and I see you have taken time to research and learn a lot about them. I want to know though, if I also had researched, been to school, received a degree and seen the benefits and effects on public health that vaccines have had, would you give me the same respect and hear me out? The conversation went very well from there. She did not change her mind but at the end, we hugged and she said, “I understand why you feel so passionately about this and I appreciate how well informed you are. Respect and acknowledge what someone else may bring to the conversation, if possible. Don’t be just as closed minded to things like echinacea or probiotics as they can be about vaccines.

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