We’ve all heard of (and likely encountered) our fair share of parents who are hesitant to have their children vaccinated. While some parents argue that vaccines are unnecessary others fear that vaccines may actually put their children at risk. However, studies have shown repeatedly that there is really no cause for concern. This said, as the popular opinion on the matter has become increasingly polarized, it is more important than ever to effectively discuss vaccines with parents. Whether you are a veteran physician or fresh out of med school, it is always a good idea to brush up on how to have this conversation in a respectful, yet persuasive manner. Below are some tips to consider if you find yourself in this position.
Listen to Parental Concerns
Vaccine hesitancy can take many forms from outright refusal of all vaccines to distrust of certain vaccines or providers. It is estimated that approximately 3% of parents refuse all vaccinations for their children outright. This leaves 97% of the population with at least some flexibility regarding their opinion towards vaccines. It is important to reach as many of these parents as possible and in order to do this, you must first understand their concerns. After listening attentively, you can then consider the root cause of their hesitation.
Identify Key Reasons for Vaccine Hesitation
It is likely that just by listening to your patient’s parents you will be able to identify where their misinformation is coming from. We’ve all heard horror stories about the dangers of vaccinations and despite appearances in the context of this discussion, the parents genuinely do think they are making the best decision for their children. Before you begin to discuss vaccines with parents, make sure you have given adequate consideration to their concerns so that you can be sure to find and provide the best possible information available.
Since you now know exactly why the parents you are talking to are hesitant, you can begin to provide relevant information. While it is, of course, important to provide general information regarding vaccinations, remember to specifically address any concerns that the parents may have brought up. Not everyone is worried about the stories that suggest vaccines are linked to A.S.D., though some are. If you are able to demonstrate to parents that you are not brushing aside their concerns, and are rather being entirely considerate of them, they are more likely to respond positively to the information you provide. Thus, it is crucial to be very deliberate when choosing how and what information is appropriate.
I’m not saying you should tell the parents your whole life story, but if you can put yourself in their position and convince them that you would trust vaccinations for your children if the roles were reversed, they may be more likely to trust your recommendation to vaccinate. If you would vaccinate your own children with your extensive medical knowledge, why wouldn’t it be okay to vaccinate their own child?
Continue to Discuss Vaccines With Parents
No matter how hard you try, nothing you do as a physician will convince all parents that vaccines are safe and necessary. Unfortunately, that will require a societal change that is not going to happen in any particular practice. However, it is important to continue the vaccination discussion with parents even after they initially refuse. While sticking to the recommended schedule for vaccinations is recommended, even delayed vaccines can have a tremendous impact. Additionally, the more parents that you are able to have this conversation with successfully afterward, the less risk all children will face. Keep doing your best with these difficult conversations and stay optimistic. Although it may not always feel like it helps, your contributions make a huge impact on the overall health of society.