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Addressing vaccine misinformation

The information on this page, and in the downloadable PDF, will help you have productive conversations that address misinformation about vaccination. This guidance aligns with recommendations in the Debunking Handbook 20201, and can be used in conjunction with the SKAI communications approach.

Last updated on 24 October 2023.


Resource type: Conversation guide
Resource Format: PDF
SKAI Topic: All
About this resource

This resource aims to support you as a healthcare professional to respond to patients who share strong beliefs in vaccine misinformation. 

This resource uses the overarching framework of the SKAI communications approach to help you acknowledge and respond to your patients’ emotions and concerns, and then share your knowledge about vaccine misinformation, before offering a recommendation to vaccinate. 

When sharing your knowledge, we recommend you use the steps to address misinformation described in The Debunking Handbook 20201: State the facts; Warn; Affirm; Explain; and Repeat the facts. 

As a healthcare professional and a trusted source of information for patients, you have an important role in dispelling vaccine misinformation.2,3 Vaccine misinformation can undermine vaccine confidence and increase vaccine hesitancy. Your role is especially significant given the threat misinformation has posed to people’s acceptance and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and routine vaccination.4

Addressing misinformation isn’t easy. In our research, healthcare professionals asked for specific guidance on how to do it.5 This resource can help you build your skills and increase your confidence in having supportive vaccination conversations with patients who share strong beliefs in vaccine misinformation.  

The steps detailed in this guidance align with The Debunking Handbook 2020.1 We have integrated these steps into a broader communication approach developed by social scientist and vaccine communication expert Professor Julie Leask from the University of Sydney and a team of other researchers. We informed this work with a review of the literature, consultation with consumers, healthcare professionals and social scientists, and guidance from communication experts.

We developed this resource to align with best practice in patient-centred communication. Best practice emphasises fostering good relationships with patients and exploring information together to support decision-making. 6,7 

This resource is part of the SKAI package to support vaccine conversations between healthcare professionals and their patients. You can find more resources to support vaccine communication in the healthcare professionals section of the SKAI website.

If you would like to provide feedback on this resource, please get in touch by phone, mail or email.

  1. Lewandowsky S, Cook J, Ecker U, et al. The Debunking Handbook 2020. 2020. Available from: 
  2. Frenk J, Chen LC, Chandran L, et al. Challenges and opportunities for educating health professionals after the COVID-19 pandemic. Lancet . 2022 Oct 29 ;400(10362):1539-1556. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(22)02092-X 
  3. Crisp N, Poulter D, Gnanapragasam S, et al. Health workers as agents of change and curators of knowledge. Lancet. 2022 Aug 6 ;400(10350):417-418. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(22)01300-9 
  4. Wang Y, Bye J, Bales K, et al. Understanding and neutralising covid-19 misinformation and disinformation. BMJ. 2022 Nov 22 ;379:e070331. doi:10.1136/bmj-2022-070331 
  5. Abdi I, Bolsewicz K, Bullivant B, Marques M, Steffens M. Understanding the factors that influence communication about COVID-19 vaccines with patients: perspectives of Australian immunisation providers. Vaccine: X. 2023. 14: 100304. doi: 10.1016/j.jvacx.2023.100304 
  6. King A, Hoppe RB. "Best practice" for patient-centered communication: a narrative review. J Grad Med Educ. 2013 Sep;5(3):385-93. doi:10.4300/JGME-D-13-00072.1 
  7. Wittenberg E, Goldsmith JV, Chen C, Prince-Paul M, Johnson RR. Opportunities to improve COVID-19 provider communication resources: a systematic review. Patient Educ Couns. 2021;104(3):438-451. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2020.12.031 
The immunisation encounter

Your patient has brought up vaccine misinformation. What should you do?

Here are the recommended steps for speaking with patients about vaccination misinformation.

Step 1. Elicit

Resist the righting reflex. Try not to correct the misinformation straight away – this can shut down the conversation and undermine your patient’s trust. Listen by nodding and staying silent – this gives you space to gather your thoughts.

Explore concerns. Find out why the false idea is important to your patient. This means exploring their concerns more broadly. They might be worried about avoiding long-term side effects or believe that developing natural immunity is a better option than vaccination. Asking these questions signals your openness to your patient’s thoughts and feelings. Understanding helps you adapt your response to what’s important to your patient.2,3 For example:

“Can you share with me what’s important to you here?”

“I’m interested to hear from you what is most concerning you.”

Step 2. Acknowledge

Acknowledge and affirm. Show that you recognise and appreciate your patient’s values and motivations, like wanting to keep themselves healthy. This helps you show empathy and build trust.4 For example:

“I can see you’ve done a lot of thinking about this.”

“It’s understandable to be concerned about your health.”

“You’re right to want to keep yourself safe.”

Step 3. Set the agenda

Summarise and set the agenda. Summarising can clarify your patient’s questions or concerns and help you agree on what you will cover (your ‘agenda’). For example:

“We have about eight minutes, so let’s focus on...”

“Let’s explore this together.”

Offer to share your knowledge to signal a shift in the conversation, from listening to sharing:

“Can I share my thoughts?”

Step 4. Share knowledge

Share knowledge to address misinformation with the following steps.

  1. State the facts. Replace your patient’s misperception with new, correct information.1 Just saying that something is wrong is not enough. Provide details, which helps your patient remember the correct information,1 for example:

 “The vaccine is generally safe and prevents severe disease. There are some studies that show…” 

You could choose facts that resonate with what your patient has told you they are concerned about, like wanting to avoid long-term side effects. 

  1. Warn. Stress that the information your patient has shared with you is a myth, a rumour or incorrect. For example: 

“This is a misperception that a couple of people have asked me about recently”

“This false idea is making the rounds at the moment.” 

  1. Affirm. Offer your patient your support by acknowledging that we are all sometimes susceptible to misinformation5

“We’re all sometimes vulnerable to rumours that make us feel worried.” 

  1. Explain. Respectfully explain to your patient why the false idea is incorrect. Explain where or how the false idea originated. Point out any inconsistencies in the false idea or why it doesn’t make sense logically.5  For example:

“This myth came from the false idea that…”

“This false idea misinterprets how vaccines work…” 

If your patient has experienced something that appears to reinforce the misinformation, help your patient understand their experience by offering an alternative explanation, for example:

“What you’ve experienced could be because of…”

“There are a few reasons you might have noticed this…” 

  1. Repeat the facts. Make sure the facts are the last thing your patient hears and digests.1 You could call attention to scientific consensus on the issue5 :

“There is strong scientific evidence that this vaccine is generally safe and prevents you from becoming severely unwell.”

Step 5. Recommend vaccination

Make a clear recommendation to vaccinate. This is very powerful in encouraging your patient to vaccinate.6,7 For example:

“I recommend that you have the vaccine today.”

Step 6. Close

Re-check intentions. After this conversation, check to see how your patient feels about vaccinating today: 

“Are you happy to go ahead with getting the vaccine today?”

Keep the conversation going. Some people will take time to digest what you have told them. They may need to come back another time. Be patient and keep the conversation going by booking another appointment: 

“Let’s book another appointment for next week and explore this together some more.”

Share credible resources. Share SKAI resources or other credible sources of information with your patient to read at home:

“Here is a website that has good quality information that might help answer your questions.”

  1. Lewandowsky S, Cook J, Ecker U, et al. The Debunking Handbook 2020. 2020. Available from: 
  2. Southwell BG, Wood JL, Navar AM. Roles for health care professionals in addressing patient-held misinformation beyond fact correction. American Journal of Public Health. 2020 Oct;110(S3):S288-S289. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2020.305729
  3. Abbasi J. COVID-19 conspiracies and beyond: how physicians can deal with patients’ misinformation. JAMA. 2021;325(3):208-210 
  4. Leask J, Kinnersley P, Jackson C, Cheater F, Bedford H, Rowles G. Communicating with parents about vaccination: a framework for health professionals. BMC Pediatr. 2012 Sep 21 ;12:154. doi:10.1186/1471-2431-12-154
  5. Armaos K, Tapper K, Ecker U, et al. Tips on countering conspiracy theories and disinformation. 2020.
  6. Opel DJ, Mangione-Smith R, Robinson JD, et al. The influence of provider communication behaviors on parental vaccine acceptance and visit experience. American Journal of Public Health, 2015. 105(10): p. 1998-2004.
  7. Leask J, Kinnersley P, Jackson C, et al. Communicating with parents about vaccination: a framework for health professionals. BMC Pediatrics, 2012. 12(1): p. 154. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-12-154