Dr. Abdul El-Sayed on How to Talk About COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy and Refusal

The former City of Detroit health director says yelling at vaccine-hesitant people only makes them more fearful of getting immunized.

There has been a surge in COVID-19 cases because of the new delta variant. This has led to increasing rates of hospitalizations and deaths. In response, health officials in Los Angeles have reinstated a mask mandate while indoors to curb the transmission of the new, more contagious variant. 

“We keep yelling across these lines that we never take the time to cross.” –Dr. Abdul El-Sayed

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Joe Biden, says 99.5% of the deaths from delta variant have been unvaccinated people. These latest numbers have posed the question: How can we convince someone who does not want to be convinced to get the vaccine?

Listen: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed on arguing with people who are against vaccines.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is the former director of the Detroit Health Department, a 2018 candidate for Michigan governor and the author of the newsletter “The Incision” on Substack. One of his recent posts was titled “On the futility of yelling ‘GO TO SLEEP!’ at a toddler.” addresses the ways people try to convince vaccine skeptics and the vaccine-hesitant that they should get immunized. 

El-Sayed says after becoming frustrated from trying to convince his daughter to go to bed and yelling at her, he realized how his shouting did not help. “I just thought about it for a second, and I said ‘You know, this doesn’t help.’ In large part, because I end up yelling at a little kid,” El-Sayed says. “All it does is pushes them further into their fears.” 

El-Sayed thinks this is a helpful metaphor for how to discuss vaccines with people who are against it. “[W]e believe it is for their own good, right? My daughter sleeping is for her own good. She wakes up refreshed for the next day. People getting vaccinated is for their own good and it helps us take on this pandemic. It keeps them safe from getting sick from a disease that killed 600,000 people,” he says. 

“We keep yelling across these lines that we never take the time to cross,” says El-Sayed about the work that needs to be done to establish trust and understanding when having these conversations.

Web story written by Dan Netter.

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