Sometimes, a single word can make the difference between a conversation that goes well and one that goes astray.
Use this short list of words to replace (and alternatives to embrace) to develop a vaccine vocabulary that inoculates against misunderstandings and distractions.
Replace: Anti-vaccine, anti-vaxx, anti-vaxxers
Embrace: People who have absorbed misinformation about vaccines
Person-first language is more respectful.
Pointing to the cause (misinformation) is more effective than pointing to the symptom (anti-vaccine attitudes).
Replace: Military language (example: Vaccines are a key weapon in our fight against diseases.)
Embrace: Preparation language (example: Vaccines prepare our immune systems to recognize and resist diseases.)
When people think about the vaccine as a shield, they assume that breakthrough infections mean that the vaccine failed. When they think about vaccines as actively fighting disease, they worry more about risks than rewards of vaccination.
Replace: Herd immunity
Embrace: Network immunity, community immunity
- People don’t like to think of themselves as part of a “herd.”
- Comparing society to a computer network helps people think about “virus protection” in a positive way.
- When things rhyme, people are more likely to believe and remember them.
Replace: Natural immunity, natural immune system
Embrace: The body’s immune system
The word “natural” can spark or reinforce concerns about vaccines being an “artificial” substance. It may also lead people to gravitate toward herbal supplements instead of immunizations.
Replace: Vaccine hesitancy
Embrace: Vaccine confidence
We are more effective communicators when we focus on what we want, rather than on what we don’t want.
While there’s no reason to avoid the word “vaccine” altogether, it is helpful to focus on the immune system’s response more than the vaccine itself. Say “immunization” more often than “vaccines” or “vaccination.” In situations where many people are not yet confident in the COVID-19 vaccine or have absorbed misinformation about vaccines, talk more about “preparing immune systems to recognize and resist the virus.”
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