Doses of Hope, Near and Far

Discussing vaccinations can bring us together instead of creating factions.

Have you been vaccinated yet? It’s the question that you may have asked or been asked now that COVID-19 vaccinations are available for everyone in Hawaii. The legitimate question could potentially ignite debates in families and among friends, causing rifts in long-standing relationships.

Advocates for vaccinations may be motivated by concern for public health and safety and may suggest to others that it is their moral, civic duty to be vaccinated to protect others in the community. Others who have not been vaccinated may feel backed into a corner, having to defend their concerns or lingering questions.

Those who have not been vaccinated express concerns about the vaccine being rushed for use without adequate testing. They may be uncomfortable that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only granted approval of the vaccines for emergency use. They may be concerned about something they read online stemming from a general mistrust in government. From their perspective, those who have been vaccinated have been misled.

Meanwhile, those who have been vaccinated may feel that those who are hesitant about being vaccinated are self-centered, uncaring, and will be the ones responsible for continuing the spread of the virus and variants in our islands. They may even threaten cutting them off from future gatherings with family or friends.

These scenarios may be more common than we would like to admit. Both sides speak with conviction, insisting the other is wrong. In those moments, the aloha spirit must prevail.

The pandemic compelled us to find out more about the virus. Some relied upon the guidance from the Hawai‘ i Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control, while others sought to uncover what they believed has been veiled from the public. Consequently, we all ended up in different places with different perspectives.

Each of us learns and grows in different ways. In the early stages of the pandemic, we didn’t know much about pandemics; even HIV and H1N1 were not on the same scale as COVID-19. We each found ways to adapt to evolving, conflicting guidance. We rapidly became acquainted with the science of how viruses spread. Our learning continues today.

As mental health professionals in public health, we want to share practical steps to move forward together:

  • Give others space to grow. Take time to listen without judgment. Find out why someone is not vaccinated, or why they are. They may have legitimate reasons for their positions. Understanding their perceptions and concerns is important.
  • Ask permission to share information from credible sources that may address their concerns. Respectfully sharing what you have learned may help others to see vaccinations in a new way.
  • Research shows many may have unresolved questions or simply may not have had the time to get vaccinated. Point them to sources for vaccinations. If someone would like to be vaccinated, make it easy for them by offering to accompany them or help them make an appointment.

The pandemic has created new sources of stress. We’ve had to adjust to teleworking or suddenly becoming unemployed, we’ve had to learn about hybrid learning for our children, and we’ve had to find suitable care for kupuna who could not safely gather. Vaccinations were not intended to add more complexity or to be polarizing. During this critical period, let’s make vaccinations something that brings us closer together. Vaccinations are our clearest path to actually coming closer together —in safe gatherings with family and friends.

By Dr. Michael Champion

Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Edition 06/13/2021.

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