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For the unvaccinated friend who still hesitates



Let’s start with a multiple choice question. What do you say to a friend who is hesitant to get vaccinated because, even though they don’t want to get COVID-19, they are worried that the vaccine might not be safe?

A) The science is clear on this. Vaccines are safer than COVID.

B) OK, you are ambivalent. You want to protect yourself from COVID, but the vaccine worries you and you want to be reassured.

C) Don’t read everything they say on Facebook. I will send you reliable articles.

D) Have you made antivax? It’s because of people like you that we’ll never get out of this.

I would have spontaneously answered A or C. Two bad choices, points out the Dr Arnaud Gagneur, nicknamed the “vaccine whisperer”. Co-author of a “chatbot”, a conversational agent published in the New York Times to know what to say (or not to say) to a friend who is still hesitant to get vaccinated, the Dr Gagneur is doing it again this week with an innovative virtual whispering project to meet the hesitant1.

What we discover by playing the game is that the thing to say if you want your friend to change his mind is not the one you would necessarily have said… The correct answer here is B. first based on empathy and respect for the autonomy of the friend to whom you wish well.


The Dr Arnaud Gagneur, professor at the University of Sherbrooke and pediatrician

It’s counter-intuitive, it’s true, concedes the Dr Winner, pediatrician, holder of a doctorate in virology and researcher at the Center hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke. But the humanist approach has the merit of being more effective than a more directive or moralizing approach, however well intentioned it may be.

The Dr Gagneur already demonstrated this ten years ago in what was initially a simple pilot project with new parents in Estrie that he set up after being shaken by the death of an unvaccinated baby.2.

He realized that when you don’t tell parents what to do, but listen to their concerns, you can improve vaccination intention by more than 10%.

The pilot project worked so well that it became a recognized provincial program called EMMIE (for Motivational Interviewing in Maternity for Childhood Immunization).

The vaccine whisperer is doing it again this week to transpose this know-how to the vaccination effort against COVID-19, which is running out of steam as we are in the middle of the sixth wave, the number of hospitalizations is on the rise. rise and that, above all, we do not have the luxury of running out of steam.

Nearly half of adults in Quebec have still not received their booster dose. As if they were saying to themselves: “It’s good, I’ve had my two doses. Can we move on to something else? »

If we are all very eager to move on, this is definitely not the time to relax, reminds the Dr Winner.

“With the fifth wave in January and February, everyone thought it was going to be over. We said to ourselves: it’s good, everyone is vaccinated and all those who have not been vaccinated will have COVID and it will be fine. But we find that no. The sixth wave is coming and it’s going to completely flare up. So it’s really not over unfortunately. »

In such a context, the new project of the Dr Winner arrives on point. As of April 13, as part of the MIICOVAC research project, any citizen who has not been vaccinated (or not fully vaccinated) or who is reluctant to have their children vaccinated can make a 30-minute virtual appointment with a vaccination advisor on the site. CanVax3. The counselor will not judge him. He won’t lecture her. Its role is to understand their concerns and answer their questions, based on the most recent evidence.

This project, supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada, in partnership with the network of Canadian scientists CoVaRR-Net, will initially be in the trial phase. “This is the first time at the global level that we are going to test this strategy”, rejoices the Dr Winner.

Building on the success of a similar approach with new parents, the researcher is hopeful that this will also reduce hesitation about vaccination against COVID-19.

“Studies on motivational interviewing have shown that the two attitudes that allow the most to change behavior are empathy and respect for autonomy. The more we seek to understand the person and to help him respect his decisions and without imposing anything on him, the more likely we are to make him change his mind and his behavior. »

Majority of unvaccinated people have nothing to do with outright conspiratorial antivax, D saysr Winner. “There are of course very, very anti-vaccine people, who oppose it in a very vocal way. But they are a minority, about 2 to 3% of the population. The concern is that there is an amalgam and a stigma. As soon as a person is not completely vaccinated and has questions about vaccination, he is labeled antivax. That does not encourage him to be more open or to go get vaccinated. It can even radicalize people a little and increase the proportion of anti-vaxxers. »

Among those who hesitate, there are many people who are simply asking questions. “It goes from ‘what’s the point of getting vaccinated?’ to considerations of violations of freedoms or a fed up with the procedures put in place. There is also a great lack of information as well as disinformation which circulates enormously. That’s what we’re trying to counter a bit with this project. »

All this without ever telling the person what to do. Called himself to discuss with people who, at the beginning, did not want to know anything about the vaccine, the Dr Gagneur is careful not to ask them at the end of the conversation what they intend to do. He simply says to them, “Thanks for the discussion. I let you make your choice. »

“It’s very funny because often, I receive a text message a week or two later, either of a screenshot of their appointment or a photo of their arm with a small bandage. “Did you see, I had my vaccine!” Whereas I had asked for nothing! »

Like what, who asks for nothing does not always have anything.

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