Communicating With Parents About Vaccines

Catherine Mary Healy, MD

Disclosures

July 26, 2016

The Vaccine Era

Immunization is one of the most effective preventive health interventions ever developed. It has saved countless children from death and serious disability. Yet, although more than 90% of children receive all recommended vaccines, rates of vaccine hesitancy are increasing.[1,2,3] Ironically, the success of the childhood immunization program in preventing vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) contributes to hesitancy because of the perception that VPDs, as they become less prevalent, are not serious.

Against this background, advocating for vaccines and readjusting parental perception in favor of the benefits of vaccination and the risks of refusing vaccination are significant challenges for providers. It is difficult to determine the best way to allay parental concerns, correct misinformation, and communicate the science of vaccination in the limited time available during a provider/parent interaction.

Consider this typical scenario:

A provider meets with the parents of a 15-month old boy who have recently moved to the practice from another state. After completing a full physical examination, the provider pronounces that all is done except for vaccinations. The parents interrupt the provider because they have some questions, taking out a file and their iPads. How should the provider react?

Most providers will admit (if they are honest) to feeling apprehensive in this situation. Their expertise is about to be questioned, and they must resign themselves to running late for the rest of the day. These feelings are entirely understandable, regardless of studies demonstrating that the strongest influence on a parent's ultimate decision on vaccination—even among parents who self-identify as vaccine-hesitant—is their provider.[1,4,5,6]

In their unique role as vaccine advocates, providers should develop communication strategies that will enable them to have conversations with parents about vaccines. It is their ethical responsibility to provide good healthcare for their patients. This is not an easy task, and research is ongoing into effective strategies and techniques for different populations and practice settings. However, providers can consider some general factors as they develop their individual communication strategies about vaccines.

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