Skip to main content

Strategies for combating vaccine hesitancy

One of the downsides of our globally wired world is that dangerous misinformation can spread like wildfire. The most dangerous myths right now concern the safety of vaccines.

For a variety of reasons, many patients are more willing to listen to their neighbors, popular Instagrammers or pseudoscientific internet resources than their own physicians.

Though the most newsworthy issue at this moment is, obviously, the COVID-19 vaccines, hesitancy and false information, such as the falsehood that childhood vaccines cause autism, still surround other vaccines.1

How can you, as a healthcare worker, combat vaccine hesitancy?

Educate yourself

Make sure you are up to date on the latest research and information about vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a complete list of vaccines and immunizations for each age group and for each health issue.2

"Changes don't happen often, but when they do, it's critical to know about them," says Heather Youngblood, senior category manager, vaccines at McKesson Medical-Surgical. "For example, when the COVID-19 vaccine came out, the CDC said no co-administration with any other vaccine within 14 days before or after your COVID-19 shot. The CDC recently updated that language."

The CDC has now issued guidelines that doctors can give adult and pediatric vaccines (including boosters), the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.3

This helps patients stay caught up on their vaccinations and not have to come back as often.

Talk with your patients often

If a patient isn't vaccinated, bring up the subject at every appointment — but do it gently and without judgment.

"People tend to react badly when they're pushed back in a corner. You don't want to put them in a situation where they don't even come in for a visit," says Deb Delisi, on-staff nurse and clinical affairs specialist at McKesson Medical-Surgical.

Actively listen to patients' reasons for vaccine hesitancy

Ask your patients about their concerns and then educate them about the truth and the myths. Don't rush and don't brush aside their worries.

Plan to spend extra time shaping the discussion and letting them know you are on their side. Your goal is to establish a respectful relationship.

Some patient populations, such as minority or low-income groups, are hesitant because they have been historically undertreated and mistreated.

According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, "For BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities, such hesitancy is rooted in both the historical and contemporary contexts of systemic racism, marginalization and neglect that shape daily life today."4

Don't take these reactions lightly.

Research vaccine myths

Researching vaccine myths can prepare you to respond when your patients express concern.

Do your own due diligence to come up with others and prepare your responses. It's an ever-changing landscape out there, and there are new myths and conspiracy theories popping up every day.

Your best bet is to check out the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all of which have great up-to-date resources on working with vaccine-hesitant patients.

Respond to general vaccine hesitancy

Here are some myths and facts to get you started when combating vaccine hesitancy.

Myth No. 1: Vaccines cause autism

Fact: This myth stems from a flawed, discredited study published in 1998. The medical journal Lancet has since retracted the study. Hundreds of studies worldwide have found no connection.5

Myth No. 2: Natural immunity is more effective than vaccine-induced immunity

Fact: Vaccines allow you to build strong immunity without experiencing the serious symptoms of the actual disease. The danger of not being vaccinated is that you might develop life-threatening or altering complications as a result of contracting the disease, while vaccines have a much safer profile.6

Myth No. 3: Vaccines contain toxic ingredients that will make you sick

Fact: Some vaccines may contain trace amounts of formaldehyde and aluminum but not in doses large enough to have an ill effect.

"There's more aluminum in natural breast milk than in vaccines , so being able to debunk that right off the bat puts things in perspective," says Youngblood.

Other vaccines do contain egg or gelatin, to which some patients may be allergic. Confirm patient allergies before administering a vaccine with allergenic ingredients.7

Myth No. 4: Vaccines will give you the disease

Fact: Vaccines protect you by imitating the infection, which stimulates your immune response. They do not cause the actual illness because they may only contain a weakened pathogen, inactive pathogen or part of a pathogen — none of which are enough to make you develop the illness.6

Work with your supply chain for timely deliveries

The number of patients seeking vaccines may vary by season (like flu season) or between COVID-19 surges. So how can you work with your supply chain to make sure you have the vaccines you need for your pediatric and adult patients?

Non-flu vaccines are returnable upon expiration. Keep an additional supply of back-to-school and respiratory vaccines during peak seasons, such as flu seasons and other times when you have increased patient visits. Remember that you may have walk-ins as well as regular appointments.

You also want extra supply in case you convince someone who has previously been hesitant but has decided to accept a vaccine on the spot.

"That may be difficult if you have limited cold storage, so leveraging distributors who offer next-day delivery is extremely beneficial," says Youngblood. "Being able to place an order by 3 pm the day before and have it arrive the next day is really important. At McKesson, we do offer that."

If you're proactive, you'll be able to help your patients make the wisest choices where vaccines are concerned.

McKesson Medical-Surgical offers several other ways to reach out to your patients to market your vaccine services. You can download social media posts, text messaging and email templates, parking lot signs, banner ads and more from our vaccine engagement toolkit.

In addition, McKesson offers a comprehensive catalog of adult and pediatric vaccines.


Be advised that information contained herein is intended to serve as a useful reference for informational purposes only and is not complete clinical information. This information is intended for use only by competent healthcare professionals exercising judgment in providing care. McKesson cannot be held responsible for the continued currency of or for any errors or omissions in the information.

© 2021 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.