The Struggle to Convince Loved Ones to Get Vaccine—and How Some Did It

What's behind every American who has yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19? Probably a frustrated loved one desperately trying to convince them to get their shots.

More than 198 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 168 million people are now fully vaccinated.

The full vaccination figure accounts for just 50.9 percent of the country's total population as of August 17, despite the highly contagious Delta variant driving a surge in cases across the U.S. and hitting particularly hard in communities with low vaccination rates.

Experts have previously explained to Newsweek how people can reach out to their unvaccinated friends, family and acquaintances.

Here, four Americans describe their efforts to persuade loved ones to get the vaccine—with mixed results.

David R. Martinez

Martinez is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Global Public Health whose work has involved testing the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Yet he has struggled to convince some family members in North Carolina to get vaccinated.

It was "particularly difficult" to get through to his 21-year-old nephew, Martinez told Newsweek. "He just said that he didn't think he needed to because he already had COVID" in January.

What ultimately convinced the younger man wasn't anything his uncle said, but a second bout of COVID this month. "This time, he felt worse… COVID itself has convinced him that he needs to get vaccinated," Martinez said.

Martinez's sister was also skeptical, but was required to get a vaccine by her employer. She contracted the virus earlier this year, but didn't get it a second time when her son did. "So her natural immunity, coupled with the vaccine, probably protected her from catching COVID because she was in contact with my nephew," he said.

David Martinez
David R. Martinez, a postdoctoral researcher whose work has involved testing the coronavirus, struggled to convince some family members to get vaccinated. Jon Gardiner

Martinez's mother, who is in her 60s, had doubts about how speedily the vaccines had been developed, but he assuaged her concerns by explaining that the shots were based on more than 20 years of research.

His mother caught COVID after she was fully vaccinated, when she came into contact with her 21-year-old grandson, but experienced only "sniffles" and a fever that lasted for a few hours, he added.

"I was explaining to her, no vaccine is perfect, but I said what's important is that you had very, very minor symptoms. It was actually nice that her doctor also told her that," he said.

Martinez admits he felt frustrated at first, "but at the end of the day, I just think people have doubts, and you just kind of have to try to meet them where they're at." He is hoping that a full approval of the vaccines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will increase take-up across the country.

Debra Jennings

Jennings, 68, has been trying to convince her brother to get the COVID-19 vaccine for months.

"Most of my family members have gotten it, but I still have about five that have not," she told Newsweek from her home in Mulberry, Florida. "And I've been trying to get them to go and get a shot, but they're afraid of it."

Jennings said some family members had been put off because a friend had experienced side effects from the shot. She also blamed the amount of vaccine misinformation and disinformation that has been spreading online.

Debra Jennings
Debra Jennings says she won't stop trying to convince her unvaccinated family members. Debra Jennings

"People really don't know what to believe. This was our governor [Ron DeSantis] acting like it's no big deal. People think it's no big deal," she said.

"They believe everything that's been said. A lot of people saying, you know, this is not real. It's all made up."

Jennings, a registered Democrat, said some of her family members had allowed their political leanings to influence their decision not to get vaccinated.

"Politics is playing in on it. It just doesn't play in on it with me," she said.

Jennings' main concern is her 91-year-old mother, whom she cares for. Her mother is fully vaccinated, but is regularly around family members who aren't.

"We have family night every Tuesday and everybody still comes over whether they're vaccinated or not," she said. "That is why if anybody is even sneezing, they don't come over."

She's also concerned about COVID-19 outbreaks when schools reopen without a mask mandate in place. "It brings me to tears because I'm afraid every day. When the kids get home, what's going to be?" she said.

Nevertheless, Jennings said she won't stop trying to convince her brother and his daughter to get themselves vaccinated, along with his grandchildren. "I keep talking to them and trying to convince them and giving them statistics, but they're just not listening," she said. "I will keep trying."

Carlos Leon

Leon, an entrepreneur based in Los Angeles, said his grandfather had initially resisted getting the vaccine because of his politics.

He yielded after some convincing, Leon told Newsweek.

"He didn't feel the virus was a big deal," he said. "We had an outbreak in my family just around the time he got vaccinated. We were incredibly lucky no one got too sick."

Leon, 38, said he also spent time trying to persuading a religious couple he employs to get their shots. "Their thought was 'God would protect them,'" he said.

But one of the employees was at higher risk from COVID-19 because of his weight, according to Leon. "I would constantly nag him," he said. But it was only after he fell ill with the flu that he decided he needed to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"He got a nasty flu and it scared him straight," he said.

He is still working to convince one of his closest friends, a man he described as an "anti-vaxxer," to get vaccinated. "I'm constantly driving the point to him," he said.

Leon added that he thinks some politicians were "too extreme" with some of the restrictions that were imposed to curb the spread of the virus, but he described the vaccine as "the game changer" that will allow a return to normalcy.

Leslie Lake

Lake, 57, proudly describes herself as the "vaccine nag."

Months of her "nagging" led Jaquan Wilson, a friend and the night doorman in her New York City apartment building, to decide he would get vaccinated.

Lake said she had asked Wilson one night why he was wearing a mask indoors and was stunned to learn he wasn't vaccinated. "That's how it started," she told Newsweek. "Then literally, it was, like, every day that I was seeing him, I would stop, and we would talk about it."

Leslie Lake and Jaquan Wilson
Leslie Lake convinced her friend Jaquan Wilson to get vaccinated. Leslie Lake

Lake said Wilson, who is Black, was hesitant to get the vaccine partly because of a mistrust of the government, but also because of concerns about side effects.

"There's just a fair amount of skepticism about vaccines with Black people, which is kind of understandable," she said. "And he had heard that there were all kinds of side effects related to it and it's new and they don't really know what's going to happen."

Lake, who is the chair of the National Blood Clot Alliance, said she had used her personal experience to alleviate Wilson's concerns after reports that a small number of people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had developed a rare blood clot.

"I was like, I've had a blood clot. I've got the vaccine, I'm OK," she said.

It took two months before Wilson took the plunge. "I told him not too long ago about somebody who was close to me, who was elderly, but she actually ended up dying of COVID and she hadn't been vaccinated," Lake said.

"I said, you know what would really suck? If I came down here one night and you weren't here. And I asked where you were and I was told that you died of COVID. And I said you've got children, and how terrible would it be for them to lose their father because he didn't get vaccinated?

"I came down one night, and he was like, 'Guess what?' I was crying. I was so happy."