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Older Adults Are Eligible for Booster Shots—So How Do You Convince Your Family To Get One?

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In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opened up booster shots for all three COVID-19 vaccines for people who are eligible. That means people who are 65 and up, and those who are 18 and older, who have certain medical conditions or live and work in high-risk situations, can get another shot. (It's worth noting: Anyone 18 and up who had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine the first time around is now eligible for a booster, too.) But being eligible for a booster and doing it are two separate things, and it can be especially tricky to encourage family members who were hesitant to get the shot in the first place to go back for more.

If you have a family member who is eligible to get a booster shot, they really should, says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "It's very important for them because it has been shown that, particularly with older people, the protection against serious disease begins to wane over time," he explains. "The whole purpose of the booster is to boost up that protection again so that they would be protected against hospitalization and serious disease."

But how do you start that conversation? If you have a loved one eligible for a booster shot but is dragging their feet on actually getting it, you might be struggling with how to broach the subject (especially if you used all your persuasive techniques when the vaccine became available). Below, experts share a few steps you can take to help nudge them in the right direction.

5 Ways to Address Booster Shot Hesitancy With Loved Ones

1. Point out that the side effects are minimal

If someone is nervous about potential side effects, information from reputable sources may help ease their mind, says clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, PsyD, an assistant professor at New York University and co-host of the Mind in View podcast.

"Most people who get a COVID vaccine booster get a sore arm, and the degree of other side effects are about what they experienced after the first and second dose," Dr. Schaffner says. "It doesn't get worse."

There is some data that breaks down what your loved one can expect. A CDC study released in late September found that people who received a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine (meaning Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) had side effects similar to their second dose. These include pain in the injection site, fatigue, and headache. And, for those who experienced side effects, most were considered "mild to moderate" and happened the day after the booster.

2. Compare it to the flu shot

Some people are annoyed at the idea of having to get yet another COVID-19 shot, and Dr. Gallagher says that's understandable. She suggests comparing the experience to a flu shot. "Help them to see that, just like we should get a flu shot every year to get the best results, it's a good idea to get a booster," she suggests. "It's part of our physical health maintenance. It's not like you go to the dentist and say, 'I went, and now I'm good for the rest of my life!'"

3. Offer to schedule the appointment for them

It feels like forever ago, but when the COVID-19 vaccine was first opened up to older adults, it wasn't easy to even find an appointment. Even then, it was usually scheduled online—something that not all older adults felt comfortable doing. "A lot of older individuals were overwhelmed with the process of getting the vaccine when it first rolled out," Dr. Gallagher says. "But it's easy to get a vaccine right now." She suggests offering to schedule the appointment for them and doing it immediately.

4. Give them a ride to the appointment

This goes back to the inconvenience factor. Your family member may feel like it's a hassle to schedule an appointment and actually take themselves to their local pharmacy or doctor's office. So, offer to give them a ride. "Just say, 'I've made an appointment for you to get your booster on such and such a day, and I'll drive," Dr. Schaffner says. "Make the process easy for them."

5. Ask about their concerns

"There's a lot of misinformation floating around out there," Dr. Gallagher says, and your loved one could have a concern about something they read or saw on television. She recommends asking about their booster shot hesitancy and then addressing it by looking up the answers together on reputable sources like the CDC or FDA. One thing you shouldn't do, Dr. Gallagher says, is to dig your heels in over disagreements. "There's an old saying: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," she says.

6. Talk about what it will mean for your family

Dr. Schaffner recommends addressing how a booster will impact your family. "Say, 'We want the whole family to be maximally protected at Thanksgiving,'" he says. "Create a target for them that's centered on family." Dr. Gallagher agrees, and she recommends saying something like, "This is going to make us less worried about you and help give us all an extra level of safety."

If your loved one is still experiencing some booster shot hesitancy, Dr. Schaffner recommends encouraging them to talk to their doctor—they may be more likely to listen to a trusted medical professional than you. "Sometimes it's better if the information comes from someone else," Dr. Gallagher says.

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