Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when there were whisperings of “possible vaccines,” I was a hard no. Summer arrived, and along with the heat came all the rumors of possible side effects; I was still saying “No, I won’t get it.” Fall arrived and with it, another wave (I lost track ... was it the third wave? Fourth?) of infections and hospitalizations.
The number of people dying from COVID-19 kept rising. I, along with so many others, realized that our hope of this pandemic ending with summer hadn’t come to fruition. It was around this time that I realized I might need to pay a bit more attention to all of the vaccine talk and instead of just shaking my head, actually learn more — and not from random people online, but from actual experts.
So I still turned to people online, but this time, it was epidemiologists and immunologists who were experts in viruses and vaccines. These people truly knew what they were talking about, and I was feeling pretty desperate for that. I wanted unquestionable facts, real numbers and unbiased data. These were people whose stories and posts I would see and read daily and slowly, over time, I began to question a lot of the former beliefs I held about vaccines.
You see, it wasn’t just the COVID-19 vaccine I was changing my mind about. It was all vaccines.
When I became pregnant with my first child, over six years ago, I went from really never having given much thought to vaccines (other than getting them) to discovering this whole other world of people who believed they were harmful. The seed of fear was planted in me, and over time, it only grew bigger.
“I can see why I believed what I did and I don’t feel any shame about it, just like I don’t feel any shame about those beliefs changing during the past year.”
I was told the vaccine risks were higher than disease risks. I was told vaccine injuries happen often. I was told doctors are profiting off of vaccines. And you know what? It was really hard to figure out what was true and what wasn’t because I felt so vulnerable and unsure as a new mom.
I remember someone saying, “Once you vaccinate, you can’t undo that, but if you choose to wait you can always change your mind later,” and that stuck with me. So I didn’t do anything. I felt paralyzed. Making decisions is already challenging for me, so avoiding them became the easier, more comfortable choice.
Looking back, I feel like I was preyed upon as a new mom; I was an easy target. I can see why I believed what I did and I don’t feel any shame about it, just like I don’t feel any shame about those beliefs changing during the past year.
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about people who choose not to vaccinate, and now more than ever, we are seeing people being attacked and judged for that. While I do understand where this comes from and why people feel so strongly, I also see that it doesn’t help. You can’t shame someone into truly changing their views.
It took a pandemic to change my mind. A freaking pandemic! (As well as educators who were kind and forthright.) Most people who aren’t vaccinating themselves or their kids aren’t actually against the idea of vaccines, they just don’t trust that the ones we have are safe. They want to see more studies being done. There is a lack of trust there and a lot of doubt; I think that opens the door to believing things that maybe you wouldn’t normally.
If you are feeling frustrated by people who are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the answer isn’t to try and scare them or make them feel worse. It is to provide facts with kindness. We are all trying to do what we think is right, to listen to the people we think are telling the truth, to keep our children as safe as possible. Our actual goals are probably very similar; we just have different ideas as to how we can reach them. Perhaps by listening to each other more, we can find a middle ground and actually be able to move forward.
I went from “anti-vaxxer” to getting the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccinating my children. I found peace in my decision, and that’s what I hope everyone can find. Whatever decision you make, make it an informed one that you can feel comfortable with; make it a decision based on facts and evidence from real sources.
“If you are feeling frustrated by people who are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the answer isn’t to try and scare them or make them feel worse. It is to provide facts with kindness.”
Many people have been asking me what really changed my mind when it came to getting the vaccine. Was it a certain person? Was it a piece of particular information?
What changed my mind is that I ran out of reasons to NOT get it.
When I was saying I wouldn’t be getting the vaccine, I had a list of reasons why. Things like fear of side effects, worrying how effective it was, questioning if natural herd immunity was better, and so on. One by one, those reasons were removed from my list as I learned more.
Here are some of the Instagram accounts that helped educate me on vaccines and viruses: @jessicamalatyrivera, @epidemiologistkat, @your_local_epidemiologist, @sciencewhizliz, @science.sam, @unambiguousscience and @unbiasedscipod.
I decided that it made the most sense to trust the people who were experts in vaccines and viruses (I know, duh — but I’d been convinced that these experts were all biased or bought out; not true). I quickly learned that some of what I had heard about vaccines and coronaviruses before from nonexperts simply was not accurate — it didn’t even scientifically make any sense! These are the people who gained my trust and ultimately changed my mind.
At first, I’d read things they posted and think, “No, that’s not true” because it went against what I had formerly believed, but it didn’t take long for me to recognize that they were the actual truth-tellers and that people I had been listening to before either really didn’t understand what they were talking about or wanted to intentionally mislead people. It no longer made sense for me to be listening to random people in Facebook groups or doctors in fields completely unrelated to virology over these experts.
It wasn’t only that I learned new things; it was also that things that I had thought were true were not. I learned that a few people are responsible for most of the anti-vaccine misinformation and are majorly profiting off of that! I learned that the VAERS vaccine reporting system is abused by people who add “side effects” that clearly have nothing to do with a vaccine, but also that the CDC really does go through and look into the serious reports (which we have seen as it reports new side effects from various COVID-19 vaccines publicly). My trust in vaccines grew, and my trust in those opposing them fell.
Changing your mind, especially strongly held views, is hard. It’s hard to recognize that you were wrong or that you listened to the wrong people, but you know what I’ve realized? It’s also very liberating. It feels good to allow your views to shift as you gain new information or new experiences and to recognize that as growth rather than digging in your heels and trying to remain true to something that no longer feels right to you.
Let’s normalize changing your mind. Let’s support people who choose to grow rather than stay stuck. And let’s end this pandemic by choosing facts and kindness, even when we don’t totally agree.