Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on reader questions. Because while humanists are committed to being good without a god, sometimes they need a little advice on how to pull it off.
Q: My 70-year-old uncle isn’t an anti-vaxxer or science denier, but he is argumentative and highly skeptical of everything—especially the government. He hated former President Trump so much that he didn’t trust Operation Warp Speed, and it took a lot of cajoling for him to finally get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Now he claims he doesn’t need nor want the booster, saying bluntly, “I’m done. The nicotine will kill off the virus.” Although he has inadvertently been social-distancing for decades, I still worry about his disinterest in improving his own health. How can I convince him to stay vaccinated?
Before you dwell too deeply on your uncle’s reluctance to get the booster, you should allow yourself to celebrate a major victory – you and your family were able to convince a reluctant loved one to get two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. That in itself is a huge accomplishment and will have lasting positive impacts on his health.
You write that your uncle isn’t a science denier or an anti-vaxxer, but he is a skeptic. Perhaps, then, you could appeal to his sense of logic and reason. He’s received two doses of a vaccine, and those doses didn’t cause him long term harm, didn’t wildly inconvenience him, and are ultimately helping him. Logic would then dictate that a booster would continue this positive trend. This could be thought of as simply dose number three – a recommendation coming not from Trump, but from the Biden White House.
If your appeal to his sense of logic isn’t enough, offer to help him through the booster process. What actions did you take to help convince him to get his initial two doses? You could help him schedule an appointment, offer to accompany him if possible, and walk him through resources that explain the reasoning behind booster shots and their safety.
I understand your frustration, but try to reframe the issue in your mind: you’ve helped him get two out of three shots done. One more to go!
—Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager and Managing Editor
Sometimes the hardest thing to accept is that we can’t convince a loved one to do something that is in their best interests–and, in this case, also for the benefit of the people around them. You may have to learn how to accept the fact that your uncle just isn’t going to get a vaccine booster. The idea that “nicotine will kill off the virus” just isn’t logical, so it’s possible you aren’t going to be able to use logical and reason to change his mind.
In that case, you have to make some decisions about how you, and potentially other family members, want to move forward. Will you welcome him to family get-togethers or important milestone events if he doesn’t continue to be fully vaccinated? Can he visit other relatives who are not able to be vaccinated—because they are immunocompromised or too young—if he hasn’t taken all of the available precautions?
Figuring out the answers to these questions may also give you some new ways to encourage him. If your uncle wants to be around family members—and that will only happen if he decides to get a booster—it may be enough to convince him to get the next shot. (Maybe he’s like the many people who have finally gotten their first doses of vaccine because their employers mandated it.)
Good luck convincing him…or making peace with his resistance.
—Nicole Carr, Deputy Director
Have you had to deal with a family member or loved one who was reluctant to get any doses of the COVID-19 vaccine? How did you navigate the situation? Let us know in the comments what a humanist would do.