NEWS OPINION

I Convinced My Grandmother to Get Vaccinated. Here Are My Takeaways for Black Families

Family illustration.

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

This article is part of our series looking at how Black Americans navigate the healthcare system. According to our exclusive survey, one in three Black Americans report having experienced racism while seeking medical care. In a roundtable conversation, our Medical Expert Board called for better representation among providers to help solve this widespread problem.

Key Takeaways

  • Navigating conversations about vaccination with family can be tricky.
  • It is important to be patient and understand their reservations and history with medical racism.
  • Approaching the conversation with kindness and patience is key.

When I received my initial dose of the COVID vaccine in late March 2021, I was the first in my family to do so. I had spent my entire life getting annual flu shots and vaccines required for school. So at the age of 23, it was a no-brainer for me to add another to that list. After a year in quarantine, I was eager to regain a sense of normalcy.

As soon as I secured my appointment, I called my parents and grandmother eagerly, asking if they had scheduled theirs as well. My grandmother, who is 77 years old, was one of the first to be eligible for the vaccine in early March of 2021. She had been taking the pandemic seriously, often triple-masking and avoiding stores and doctor’s offices.

I told her about my friends in the medical industry who had been vaccinated a month prior and only experienced cold-like symptoms. I shared how, being fully vaccinated, they now felt more comfortable in public spaces and visited family members they had not seen in a while.

She and my family were hesitant. They wanted to “wait and see” if the news would report any major side effects from the shot before they got theirs. I tried to encourage her, stressing that the sooner she did, the sooner I could come back home to visit. It had been four months since I last stopped by to chat with her from 30 feet away in her yard.

But despite my attempts, the vaccine remained a point of contention. I needed a plan.

I consulted with my friend and roommate who works in medical research and was one of the first in my circle to get the vaccine. She listed out her symptoms and experience with the vaccination process. So I returned to my grandmother with research.

It took about three more conversations with her, locked and loaded with this first-hand information, to assuage her worries that the vaccine would harm her. By mid-April, she called and agreed to get vaccinated with the promise that, once she got her second dose, I would come back home and give her the first hug I had given her in a year.

The Black community’s distrust of medical practices is rooted in a long history of White medical malpractice.

The Black community’s distrust of medical practices is rooted in a long history of White medical malpractice. In the 1800s, J. Marion Sims, a once-revered gynecologist, experimented on Black enslaved women without anesthesia to create practices that could then be used on White patients. This type of medical abuse continued on in the modern day. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman from southern Virginia, sought treatment for cervical cancer. Her cells, which were collected then, have now been used and replicated without her consent by researchers for decades.

My grandmother was born only seven years before Henrietta Lacks was admitted for treatment. Her life was likely colored with the traumatic possibility that, she too, would have her rights taken away medically, and that her own health concerns would be disregarded. When I realized this, I was able to come away with a better understanding and level of empathy for her fear of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result of our phone conversations, today, she is fully vaccinated and boosted.

It is important to remember that our elders, parents, and even our peers, may have reservations about getting vaccinated. And having these conversations can be difficult.

Across 42 states, as of January 31, 2022, 61% of White people had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, higher than the rate for Black people (55%).

Communities of color are still struggling to access the vaccines. But in cases where the vaccines are readily available, it is our responsibility to encourage other Black people to get vaccinated in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, particularly in our own communities that remain the most vulnerable.

How to Navigate the Conversation

When diving into these discussions, keep these tips in mind.

Maintain Kindness and Patience

If you approach a family member and they are not receptive, let go of the conversation and try again in another day or two without being forceful. Come back with a compassionate worldview or some kind of emotional compromise.

Maybe don’t bribe your grandmother with a visit like I did, but remember that these are people you care about, and vice versa. Make sure your tone reflects that.

Ask Them What Their Main Concerns Are

More likely than not, they can find out information on vaccine ingredients, symptoms, aftercare, and more, from healthcare providers, health organizations, or vaccine administrators.

You can point them in the direction of credible health resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) even has its own COVID-19 page that reports vaccination and pandemic facts, guides you to ordering free at-home tests, and helps you find a vaccine clinic near you.

Share How You Felt Before and After the Vaccine

If you prepared for the vaccine in a specific way or experienced any symptoms after—let them know. Hearing what someone trusted went through can be comforting.

Staying hydrated, sleeping well beforehand, and increasing motion in the arm where you get your shot can all help relieve discomfort. Before my own appointments, I drank Gatorade, ate a full breakfast, and went on a walk afterward to get fresh air. These details are important to share.

Show Them Rising Vaccination Statistics

Try showing them some positive statistics. It can be encouraging to see proof that vaccinated people experience milder symptoms if they do contract the virus. You can even show them that more people are getting vaccinated nationwide. The pandemic is not over, but make sure to share signs of hope that the situation is improving.

Help Them Schedule an Appointment

If their main reservation is that they are not sure about where to get vaccinated, help them secure a spot where you received your shot (if possible). That level of familiarity can put them at ease and also help them avoid confusing online sign-up procedures.

What This Means For You

If you or a close one are having trouble finding vaccination locations, the CDC has a list of instructions here that can point you in the right direction. You can search for appointments here. You can also check out Verywell’s Healthy Conversations coach to help guide you when talking about COVID vaccines.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Kaiser Family Foundation. Latest data on COVID-19 vaccinations by race/ethnicity.