7 Tips for Talking to Your Senior Parents About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Kara Lewis
By Kara LewisDecember 23, 2020
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Older adults are among the first in line to receive the new COVID-19 vaccines. This is because seniors have a heightened risk of experiencing more severe symptoms from the coronavirus.

Developed by makers Moderna and Pfizer, the vaccines were authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in the U.S. in mid-December. Some assisted living residents are already receiving vaccinations, with more expected to receive them in early 2021.

While many older adults are excited or hopeful about getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, others might be confused, hesitant, or afraid. Caregivers and family members can play a pivotal role in acknowledging these concerns and helping seniors evaluate what’s best for their health.

“One of the most important things to consider when discussing this with your loved one is to be honest and open about fears and concerns,” says Stephanie Haley-Andrews, a registered nurse and senior vice president at Denver-based Spectrum Retirement Communities. “Validating those feelings will help guide you to the right decision for your loved one.”

Read on to learn how to talk to your parents or other senior relatives about the COVID-19 vaccines, including how to alleviate worries, seek trusted information, and discuss important benefits.

1. Encourage open discussion

If you and your senior relatives have different opinions and feelings about the COVID-19 vaccine, certain strategies can help bridge communication gaps, address concerns, and invite discussion. The following active listening traits can enhance your conversation:

  • Statements like “I understand your concerns” or “I know you’re uncertain” let your parent know you’re considering their feelings.
  • Paraphrasing and asking for clarification. Reiterating what your parent says shows you’re paying attention, and provides an opportunity to explain and clear up misunderstandings. Phrases like “It sounds like…” and “So, what I hear you saying…” can be effective openings to summarize a loved one’s points and further conversation.
  • Asking questions. Seek to better understand your loved one’s point of view by asking questions like, “What about the COVID-19 vaccine concerns you?” and “What information do you need about the COVID-19 vaccine?” This can deepen discussion and provide reassurance.

2. Discuss the vaccine’s efficacy

It’s widely understood that seniors are at increased risk for serious illness and death from the coronavirus, which is highly contagious.

The vaccine is the gateway. It’s the hope.

Suzanne Modigliani, aging life care manager in Brookline, Massachusetts

According to the FDA, which ensures vaccine safety, the Moderna vaccine has a 94.1% efficacy rate. Meanwhile, the Pfizer vaccine boasts 95% efficacy.

“While this is ultimately a personal choice, we want everyone to understand the potential beneficial impact the vaccine provides in the battle against COVID-19,” says Haley-Andrews.

3. Address safety and risk concerns

Research suggests side effects of the vaccine are minimal, such as pain at the injection site or a low-grade fever. According to a study of 40 older adults published in the New England Journal of Medicine, no seniors reported adverse effects a month after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, early studies show that older adults may be at a lower risk of vaccine side effects when compared with younger people.

4. Rely on trusted, expert sources

It can be exhausting to follow all the news surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. Avoid becoming overwhelmed by identifying one or a few credible, unbiased sources.

Seniors and their families can seek guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the World Health Organization (WHO). A trusted local medical institution may also be a good source.

5. Talk to your doctor

Leaders at Spectrum are encouraging residents, their families, and company team members to discuss the vaccine with their physician, says Haley-Andrews. Sometimes, a personal outside perspective can provide much-needed information and counsel.

Not only can a doctor share medical expertise, but they can also ensure your parent doesn’t have allergies to a COVID-19 vaccine ingredient or other health conditions that could increase their risk of vaccine side effects.

6. Consider the vaccine testing process

When talking to your parent about the COVID-19 vaccine, it may be helpful to share information about how safety and effectiveness were determined. Some insights to share:

  • The Pfizer vaccine trial involved 44,000 people, including older adults.
  • The Moderna vaccine trial involved 30,351, including older adults.

Scientists who oversaw these studies observed participants for an average of two months after they received the vaccine, noting only minor side effects.

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7. Consider the social benefits and return to normalcy

Getting vaccinated won’t instantly transport seniors to their pre-pandemic lifestyle. However, “this is the beginning of the road to a less restricted existence,” says Suzanne Modigliani, an aging life care manager in Brookline, Massachusetts, and co-author of Harvard Medical School’s Caregiver’s Handbook.  

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults may have missed out on seeing family and friends and participating in fun activities in their senior living communities. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine can be a step toward returning to beloved hobbies and rebuilding in-person social connections.

 “The vaccine is the gateway,” says Modigliani. “It’s the hope.”


Sources:

Greater Good Science Center. “Active Listening.” 
https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/active_listening

Food and Drug Administration. “Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.” 
https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/moderna-covid-19-vaccine

Food and Drug Administration. “Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.” https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine

Kara Lewis
Author
Kara Lewis

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