What to say to an anti-vaxxer.

What to say to an anti-vaxxer.

Quick responses for speaking to loved ones and unloved ones alike.

November 13th, 2021 at 7:22 pm EDT

When it comes to resolving conflict, when was it that we stopped believing in “magic formulas,” exactly? Nowhere do we need them more, than in our conversations around covid. Disagreeing with another person is rarely easy, and over a heated topic, harder still. So when one of us finds a recipe that cooks just right, we should share it. Here are some ideas to consider when talking to an anti-vaxxer about covid, to keep the conversation simple, direct, and truthful.

“The covid vaccine data on adults is next to nothing compared to what it should be.”

Regardless of how much data there once was, the data for adult covid vaccines now includes hundreds of millions.

“Vaccine mandates in this country are unprecedented, the kind of tyranny our Founding Fathers fought.”

In 1777, during the Revolutionary War, George Washington mandated that his soldiers take the smallpox vaccine. Then in 1813, James Madison established a National Vaccine Agency during his time as president, creating a federal lineage of vaccination law.

“Vaccine mandates for schools are a new low for America.”

Every American state requires public school students to receive vaccines to attend, the first state implementing their rule before the Civil War, and the last still over forty years ago.

“Most people get exemptions from school vaccine rules.”

Nearly 90% of U.S. residents attend public school. Only 2.5% of those enrolled apply and receive exemptions. The rest are vaccinated.

“Vaccine mandates would never happen in a red state.”

Alabama, the reddest state, mandates that public school students have five doses of the diphtheria vaccine, five doses of the tetanus vaccine, four doses of the polio vaccine, two doses of the measles vaccine, and single-doses for rubella, varicella, mumps, hepatitis b, and pneumococcal disease vaccines.

“The covid vaccines are a progressive rush job.”

Former President Donald Trump called vaccination research under his leadership “Operation Warp Speed” and regularly complained that Biden would take credit for his speedy vaccine efforts.

“I’ve heard some doctors are against the vaccines.”

The American Medical Association reported that over 96% of doctors and counting were already vaccinated as of June 2021, just two months after the vaccine rollout.

“I don’t trust most of these doctors and scientists with how they talk. They’re know-it-alls.”

It’s not always easy to explain something you’re especially good at, to someone who has never had the need to learn even a bit of it. Doctors and scientists, like most of us, have no formal training in speaking clearly, and feeling frustrated when a message doesn’t get across is normal. Not appointing dedicated teams to help translate for the doctors — almost as if they were speaking another language — is the biggest leadership mistake of the pandemic.

“I don’t trust scientists to tell us the truth.”

Scientists tell their families to get vaccines, same as what they tell the public. They also vaccinate themselves.

“I don’t trust healthcare companies or the government.”

If someone wakes up and their heart is about to give out in a few hours, the fact that they take their covid vaccine that morning won’t change the outcome either way. But when they die from a heart attack in the afternoon, healthcare providers record a potential connection. There are hundreds of millions of people who have taken the vaccines. Of course there are people that were flagged. That’s not to say that some situations didn’t deserve it. But the reason you know about any possible complications, and have less confidence in the medical providers, is because they are doing something trustworthy by telling you.

“The side effects are really bad.”

Just as most car crashes are fender benders, those who have side effects from the covid vaccines will often have only temporary, minor ones. As reported by Fox News, “…after hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered around the world — and intense safety monitoring — few serious risks have been identified.”

“Other vaccines didn’t have these side effects.

One of the rarer and most dangerous side effects talked about with covid vaccines is anaphylaxis. It’s a reaction most vaccines count among their side effects, too. Scientists and doctors have been researching anaphylaxis since well before the pandemic. Rare occurrences are why from the very beginning with covid vaccines, healthcare providers have insisted people wait for a bit to be monitored after they get their vaccine. Those procedures were always a safety measure to make the whole thing safer for you.

“The vaccines were supposed to be this big cure, but people still end up in the hospital even if they got one.”

The amount of exceptions may feel like a lot, but we are a big country over 300 million large, and those numbers would be a whole lot bigger if not for the vaccines. A vaccine is not a cure. It’s a defensive playbook that’s taught to your immune system. There’s still the game to play if covid shows, and some games will be close.

“Some people still die even if they’ve had the vaccine.”

Think back to the beginning of the pandemic. Skeptics posted online a bunch of statistics on other issues, to show that covid wasn’t different enough to warrant changing our lives. Even though skin cancer and car crashes can both kill, people still head into the sun without sunscreen every day, they argued, or onto the road to drive a car. I didn’t think their comparisons were the right way of looking at covid, but that’s okay if you did.

So go ahead and get a vaccine, then. The risks are incredibly low where you shouldn’t have to treat yourself like there’s some huge danger.

“I don’t know what sources to trust anymore. Everyone is biased.”

Bias has been a byproduct of news agencies embracing the higher ratings that come with emotional opinions. Johns Hopkins Medicine has compiled an easy-to-understand webpage on the vaccines.


Impatience has been part of the problem. We’ve judged effectiveness far too quickly, and tossed out efforts that were in the process of working. Give others time. Whether they deserve it or not is irrelevant if the first goal is just to move forward.

So what should you say to an anti-vaxxer? Tell them the truth. Make no hard promises when you know there are exceptions. Use examples they understand. Talk to them like people. Litigating blame can come next.