How to talk to your patients about COVID-19 vaccination

Healthcare professionals are patients’ and parents’ most-trusted source of information on vaccines. Your answers to their questions matter and will help them make an informed decision about getting a COVID-19 vaccination for themselves or their children.

Whether you have these discussions with your patients during an in-person office or hospital encounter, through messages on your patient portal, at a telemedicine visit, or during consultation in your pharmacy, your strong vaccine recommendation is the most important part of the conversation.

1. Lead with listening.
  • Do not make assumptions about whether your patients will choose to get vaccinated or the reasons for their decisions. Instead, begin with an open-ended question, such as “What are your thoughts on getting a COVID-19 vaccination today?”
  • Actively listen and seek to understand the patient’s point of view.
  • Recognize that these conversations can take time and may continue over the course of multiple encounters.
2. Use patient-centered communication techniques.
  • Use open-ended questions to promote dialogue. Ask about readiness to vaccinate and what questions or concerns they may have.
  • Paraphrase any information shared to show that you have heard and understood it.
  • Praise measures already taken to protect themselves or their children from COVID-19, like mask wearing and spatial distancing. Then frame vaccination as a safe and effective way to help protect them from getting COVID-19.
  • Ask for permission to share more information on COVID-19 vaccines. This will foster openness and connection.
3. Respond to questions and concerns with empathy.
  • Respond to questions and concerns in a non-judgmental, respectful, and empathic way.
  • Provide accurate answers using clear, simple language. Explore some of the questions patients ask most often about vaccines and use tips for answering their questions: Answering Patients’ Questions.
  • Some concerns may stem from mistrust in the medical establishment or the government as result of collective or individual mistreatment and traumas. Acknowledging past traumas may promote patients’ trust in you and your message.
  • Acknowledge uncertainty about what we don’t yet know about COVID-19 vaccines. This can help build trust.
4. Give your strong recommendation.
  • Let your patients know that you recommend COVID-19 vaccination for them. Your strong recommendation is critical for vaccine acceptance.
  • Tailor your recommendation to include any relevant reasons why COVID-19 vaccination might be particularly important for that specific patient.
  • Talk about your personal decision and experience in getting a COVID-19 vaccine and your experience treating COVID-19 patients.
  • Share the benefits of getting vaccinated, including:
    • Protecting themselves and others who may be more vulnerable, and
    • Enabling them to get back to activities they have missed.
  • Explain what they can do when they’ve been fully vaccinated.
  • “I strongly recommend you get a COVID-19 vaccine…”
  • “…This shot is especially important for you because of your [job/underlying health condition/vulnerable family].”
  • “…I believe in this vaccine so strongly that I got vaccinated as soon as it was available to me, and I recommended that everyone in my family did the same.”
  • ” I have seen what COVID-19 can do to patients and their families. I want to protect you as best I can from COVID-19 infection and complications.”
5. Wrap up the conversation.

Encourage patients or parents to take at least one action, such as:

  • Scheduling a vaccination appointment with your office, pharmacy, or another vaccination site, or
  • Reading any handouts that you provide to them.

If they decline vaccination, acknowledge that this is their decision, and keep the door open to revisiting the topic during future visits.

Page last reviewed: June 28, 2021