'Not for My Child': Dealing With Vaccine-Refusing Parents

Batya Swift Yasgur, MA, LMSW

Disclosures

September 19, 2014

In This Article

Introduction

Few situations are more frustrating for physicians than parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Many physicians find it distressing to see parents deliberately withhold a potentially life-saving intervention from their child. In addition, a unvaccinated child could put other patients in the waiting room and other people in society at risk.

"I'm seeing more people who resist getting vaccines for their children," says Claire McCarthy, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "There are many reasons, including the rapid spread of misinformation through social networking sites and the Internet, and a general distrust of the medical profession. It's really hard to address this issue during a highly compressed office visit."

But although there's no magic way to make reluctant parents cooperate, there are many strategies to ease the process and increase your chances of success.

"Attitudes toward vaccines range along a continuum, from ambivalence to adamant opposition, and each requires a somewhat different approach," says Andrew Cronyn, MD, a pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Hospital and St. Clare Health Center, St. Louis, Missouri. "Walking parents through the decision to vaccinate their children is a necessary conversation that can be approached in a stepwise way, depending on their attitude."

Why Don't Parents Want to Vaccinate Their Children?

Dr. McCarthy lists the top reasons she hears from parents, including the belief that such illnesses as polio and measles have been eradicated or aren't serious; that vaccines cause autism or have side effects; that children are receiving "too many" vaccinations at once; that preservatives in vaccines are dangerous; that pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and the government are engaged in some type of nefarious conspiracy; and that friends and family are more trustworthy than medical professionals.

"Educating yourself about these myths is the first step in dispelling them," says Dr. McCarthy, who is Senior Editor of Harvard Health Publications.

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