Virtual forum: medical experts discussed COVID-19 vaccines for the holidays

Media Contacts
Sarah Becker

HAMPDEN COUNTY, Mass. — As people across Massachusetts and the world fret about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, medical experts say it’s crucial to get fully vaccinated against the deadly virus. In response, the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Massachusetts Association of Public Health Nurses, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and MASSPIRG Education Fund hosted a public forum Wednesday night to discuss strategies for talking about the COVID-19 vaccines with unvaccinated friends and family. 

“We all want to gather safely with friends and family over the holidays. While we had hoped to be past the COVID-19 pandemic by now, that’s not the case. But we are in a very different place than last year, so people have a lot of questions and we want to make sure they get timely and accurate information on how to stay safe,” said Sarah Becker, Public Health Associate with MASSPIRG. 

Massachusetts is experiencing another significant increase in COVID-19 infections at a time when many Bay Staters are making plans to travel and celebrate holidays together. Here, and across the United States, experts are warning this could be the start of another winter surge. However doctors say vaccines can help mitigate that surge as our best tool against COVID-19

Dr. Jonathan Schwab, MD, Medical Director at Hampshire Area Pediatrics, Dr. Chrystal Wittcopp, MD, Medical Director at Baystate General Pediatrics, and Dr. Bernhard Leidner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at UMass Amherst met virtually with Hampden County residents to discuss the best ways to confidently and empathetically talk with friends and family about their concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. 

“I talk to my patients daily about these issues, and one of the most important things that I can do is to be honest with them and to develop trust,” said Dr. Schwab. “It’s also important to be a compassionate listener and to understand what peoples’ concerns are on this issue of the vaccine.” 

“Listening is the first key,” added Dr. Wittcopp. “Listening, understanding where the person’s perspective is, and trying to meet them at that point. Without that, you’re just running off a bunch of facts that they may or may not be interested in hearing.” 

“When you talk to your family or friends, try not to debate them or push them,” noted Dr. Leidner. “Really try to take a perspective of honestly wanting to understand what makes them hesitant or resistant. You need that honest conversation and dialogue.”

Anyone with questions about getting their initial COVID-19 vaccines or a booster shot should talk to their doctors, and can find out where to get a vaccination appointment at For a link to the presentation, click here.

Additional Reources:

Dr. Schwab recommends this “COVID-19 Vaccine Options” table that works as a decision tree for finding the right vaccine option for you, your family, or your friends. Dr. Leidner also provided a guide for how to approach empathetic conversations, both in general and specifically with regards to COVID-19. 

For more general information about the COVID-19 vaccines for adults and children, you can visit: