Reaching out to people who are still unvaccinated for COVID-19

A man smiles as a health care worker applies a vaccine shot.
Pine City resident Brad Samuelson got vaccinated for COVID at the Pine County Fair on Aug. 4. “I am not totally excited about getting it," he said. Being able to spend time with family drove his decision, not the $100 incentive which he said he would probably donate to someone.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News file

In the wake of the delta variant, more Americans have gotten vaccinated in the last month against COVID-19. But one in four Minnesota adults is still unvaccinated against the virus. 

People’s reasons for turning down the shots are varied and personal. Some don’t trust the safety of vaccines approved in record time. Others have a paralyzing fear of needles, don’t think they will get sick with COVID-19 or don’t think the vaccine works. 

Guest host Catharine Richert talked with a family doctor and a family therapist about what’s behind vaccine hesitancy and how to have conversations with people who are vaccine hesitant.  

For a doctor, “The ability … to understand where a patient is coming from and what is influencing their decisions is really at the crux of what it takes to … understand how to effectively offer guidance,” said Eduardo Medina, a family physician at HealthPartners Park Nicollet Clinic in Minneapolis.

The primary reasons for vaccine hesitancy that Medina has seen in his patients are caution, misinformation and distrust.

“The function of a health care professional is to share [information] and really try and provide the teaching opportunity,” Medina said.

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Medina has also encouraged his patients to “become engaged in the decision-making process.”

“Use your own powers of perception,” Medina said, and compare the number of people who have died of COVID-19 to the “vast majority” of people who “are doing well after they’ve gotten their vaccines.”

Bill Doherty, a family therapist and professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, has seen the pain caused by conflicts over the COVID-19 vaccines.

“There is fatigue, there is anger, there is politicization and then it invades our personal relationships,” Doherty said.

So how do you have a conversation about vaccines with someone who you don’t see eye to eye?

“Acknowledge where they’re coming from rather than just immediately contradicting it, and inquire how they came to their view,” Doherty suggested. “Connect before you offer a different opinion.”

Doherty also recommended approaching with respect, listening first, agreeing as much as possible, expressing heartfelt concern, making “I” statements instead of declarations of fact and sharing sources of information.

What if you need to ask for space from a loved one who won’t get vaccinated to keep yourself and the rest of your loved ones safe?

“Separate self-protection … from communicating to a loved one that they are wrong or stupid or irresponsible,” Doherty said. Again, it comes back to respectfully expressing what you need to do to stay safe without implying the other party is wrong or irresponsible.

Richert also spoke with Tommy McBrayer Jr., a community organizer in south Minneapolis, about the reasons why he is hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.


  • Dr. Eduardo Medina is a family physician at HealthPartners Park Nicollet Clinic in Minneapolis.

  • Bill Doherty is a family therapist and professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. He’s co-founder of Braver Angels, an organization that brings together reds and blues to try to depolarize America. 

  • Tommy McBrayer Jr. is a community organizer in south Minneapolis and vaccine hesitant.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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