Within the medical community, there are few more frustrating experiences than a parent refusing to vaccinate their child. Widespread research and consensus suggest that common vaccinations are not only safe but actually extremely beneficial for society. Yet vaccine hesitancy, as this phenomenon has come to be known, remains prevalent among far too much of the population. With this in mind, what can physicians do to convince parents that vaccines are necessary and safe? Well, the answer may be different in different scenarios. However, there are a few common practices that may help physicians when discussing vaccination with parents.
Tips for Discussing Vaccination with Parents
When dealing with parents who are vaccine hesitant, the most important thing is to understand why they do not want to vaccinate their children. In the age of social media, misinformation can spread as rapidly as the diseases that vaccinations prevent. Different parents will likely have different reasons for vaccine hesitancy. This is why it is so crucial in understanding their perspective when discussing vaccination with parents. Whether they believe that vaccines are simply unnecessary or that they are downright unsafe, vaccine-hesitant parents likely do not fully understand the situation. Ask these parents questions about why they have made the decision not to vaccinate. After allowing them to explain themselves, ask them where they are getting their information. Follow up questions like this can help you understand the full rationale for vaccine hesitancy.
Listen and Respond to Concerns
As the parents are explaining why they are vaccine hesitant, be sure to listen attentively. It may even be a good idea to take notes as they talk. Doing so will ensure that you know exactly what points to respond to. Provide reputable information in a very specific way. For example, if the parent simply believes that the diseases that vaccinations prevent are uncommon, provide data to show why the disease may still be a risk. On the other hand, if a parent believes that vaccines can actually cause harm to their child, refer them to the Center for Disease Control’s vaccine safety research. Offering information that specifically disputes any misinformation that the parent may have can be an effective way to educate them without making them feel attacked. Rather than simply throwing out all of the research on why vaccinations are good, parents can work through the relevant information.
Be Understanding and Personal
Ultimately, even parents who refuse vaccines for their children do so because they believe that it is best. When faced with vaccine-hesitant parents, be understanding and sympathetic to this fact. Being offensive and combative is unlikely to change anyone’s mind after all. Help the parent to see that you are, in fact, on their side. You both have the same goal ultimately; make sure that the child is safe and healthy. Of course, you know that the best way to do that is to give them the recommended vaccinations. While being personal is often discouraged in medicine, this is one case where it may be helpful to provide personal anecdotes. For example, if you are a parent, explain why you chose to vaccinate your children. Doing so can help the parent to see that you only want what is best for them.
Discussing vaccination with parents who are vaccine hesitant is never easy. However, as a physician, it is crucial to be well prepared for this conversation. Whether talking about the flu vaccine or the polio vaccine, doctors are in the best position to combat misinformation and encourage parents to vaccinate their children. Ultimately, the decision rests with the parent, but that does not mean that physicians cannot play an important role in the conversation. Do you have any tips for discussing vaccination with parents? Share with us in the comments below!