brand logo

Information sharing and motivational interviewing techniques can build trust and make vaccine-hesitant patients more open to getting the shot.

Fam Pract Manag. 2023;30(2):19-23

This content conforms to AAFP criteria for CME.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial relationships.


After the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available, a group of University of New Mexico medical students and residents reached out to patients to assist them in getting vaccinated. It quickly became apparent that many were resistant to getting the new shots. Students, residents, nurses, and even experienced attendings found it challenging to talk to patients about COVID vaccines at times.

Some patients had questions or concerns about vaccine safety, effectiveness, or cost that were relatively easy to address. But others had deeply held, negative beliefs about the vaccines based on misunderstandings or misinformation. The latter group included people who felt that the COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax, the vaccines were likely to seriously harm them, or the vaccines did not have any significant benefits. Sometimes these individuals had very emotional negative reactions toward the vaccines, and those discussions were often unpleasant for the health care professionals, who felt they had failed when the patient refused to get vaccinated despite being given facts and information.

The official COVID-19 Public Health Emergency is set to expire in May, but as of February 2023, hundreds of Americans were still dying of COVID every day.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend vaccination, but a recommendation from a trusted primary care physician can often have a greater effect on patients' decisions.2 Still, some patients will be hesitant. Dispelling misinformation with data and facts is important, but changing beliefs also requires listening, exchanging information, and building trust.

Building on previous literature regarding other vaccines,3,4 this article provides guidance to improve conversations with vaccine-hesitant patients, based on what we learned from our own efforts regarding COVID-19 vaccination.


  • Conversations with a trusted primary care physician can often be more effective in convincing patients to get vaccinated than recommendations from government health agencies.

  • Dispelling misconceptions with facts and data is important, but storytelling, information sharing, and other techniques are also key to addressing vaccine hesitancy.

  • Maintaining trust while having difficult conversations about vaccines may help move patients along the hesitancy spectrum, even if they don't decide to get vaccinated at the current visit.


Vaccine hesitancy is sometimes rooted in strong emotions and beliefs that are difficult to change. This is especially true with the COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed at an unprecedented pace5 and have become fraught with political baggage.6

Already a member or subscriber?  Log In


From $90
  • Immediate, unlimited access to all FPM content
  • More than 36 CME credits/year
  • AAFP app access
  • Print delivery available

Issue Access

  • Immediate, unlimited access to this issue's content
  • CME credits
  • AAFP app access
  • Print delivery available

Article Only

  • Immediate, unlimited access to just this article
  • CME credits
  • AAFP app access
  • Print delivery available
Interested in AAFP membership?  Learn More

Continue Reading

More in FPM

More in Pubmed

Copyright © 2023 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.