Mother just turned into an anti-vaxxer, literally in minutes

TLDR: My mother was watching the news and saw a doctor talking about an eventual vaccination for the coronavirus. She decided she won’t get one because it’s “too dangerous”. I don’t want to call that an “education backfire” because I suspect 95%+ of the population would understand what the doctor said.

This is just a vent, but if someone has some advice I’m listening.

My mother is 74 years old (so at risk) and was not born in Canada. Unfortunately the education standards were not good in her home country. Other members of her immediate family have children who are now adults and are lawyers, doctors, teachers, and so forth… if those children were raised in Canada or the US. To this day, she asks me to spell moderate complexity words and even read letters for her. (I offered to pay for her glasses for the preceding Christmas but she’s been dragging her heels.)

She might suffer from anxiety. It’s dangerous to diagnose someone with something if you are not a doctor, but I’ve noticed symptoms since I was in grade five, and they have never gone away. Of course, I could be wrong. I checked with my doctor a few years ago because I thought my mother might not have gotten me vaccinated (she believes in “natural medicine”), but I have all the shots I need. She actually has a healthcare background of sorts (she used to be a licensed practical nurse or a nurse’s aide, although she had to lost the job when she had to move when I was like four years old).

This morning she got mad at me for not watching coronavirus stuff on the news. (I use Google News and the like, and I hate watching TV for reasons that aren’t relevant to this. She is not computer-literate so doesn’t understand Google News, but has Whatsapp and can get worryingly conspiracy-laden videos, plus funny videos.)

Since I wasn’t watching with her, I don’t know what the doctor said. I suspect it was something non-controversial. I really don’t think she knew what a vaccine was, beyond “something magical that makes you immune to a disease”… until she heard what this doctor said. She announced to me that she would never get the vaccine. I tried reminding her that she had a health care background but she insisted that this virus is “too dangerous” and I think she will probably never get a vaccination again.

I’m glad all my siblings are grown.

Who knows what the doctor said … it may very well have been expressing some hope that the vaccine would be fast tracked before usual safety testing is completed.

My advice is to listen to what her fears are and to validate that her anxiety about it is rational. Agree with her that she should not do anything that has not been adequately tested.

Arguing with her will only raise her acute anxiety more and entrench her into her belief, making it harder to move her later.

You have likely a year and a half until the vaccine is available. Her anxiety may be minimally directed in a different direction than vaccine safety at that point. And you will, at that point, have access to data on how well it has been tested for safety and expert statements to reassure her with that do not yet exist.

(Speaking from the perspective of a pediatrician who has dealt with many vaccine hesitant parents over the years.)

Arguing will only make her anxiety worse, telling her she is wrong will make it worse.

You need to ask her why she doesn’t want one then find a way to make her feel her fears are listened to and understood, then help her feel like even if she is afraid you can help her work past her fears (if her fears are unfounded)

Is she opposed to all vaccines, or just the coronavirus one? Maybe she is afraid there won’t be enough safety tests and long term tests to see how people react.

Thank you for the advice, both of you.

She has only admitted to fear of the coronavirus (vaccination). She did have me vaccinated against the various diseases when I was young. However, she doesn’t (or didn’t) know how vaccinations worked, and would not have been exposed to the “usual” anti-vax messages when I was a kid.

I don’t know if she gets the flu shot or other “adult” vaccinations. I don’t talk to her about health because she always acts so anxious about it. Usually when she tries to talk to me about health, which she does a lot, I remind her that I have a doctor.

Yes, arguing with someone’s fear will usually intensify it, make you seem like “one of *those *people.” It takes listening, then some slow wheedling and convincing. Ask her what specifically it is she thinks dangerous about the shots.

I have no idea how to talk an anti-vaxxer out of their idiocy, but general education level seems to have little to do with it. I work with lots of people whose education ended in grade-school in a developing country, and in my personal life I’m surrounded by people with bachelor’s and advanced degrees. All of the anti-vaxxers I’ve encountered have been in the latter group.

Since it is a long time before a vaccine will be available, there is no reason to argue with her now. When the time comes, you can role model by getting vaccinated to show her there is no problem. You might also want to collect stories of people who have died or gotten deathly sick from COVID-19.
BTW, does she think it a hoax, or does she appreciate the severity of the problem?

Tell her she’s right, she shouldn’t get it - until it’s gone through clinical trials to prove it’s safe and effective.

Have her watch TV the day Dr. Oz announces the vaccine is safe.

She is utterly terrified of the disease.

This is excellent advice for dealing with your mother’s anxiety in general.