3 points 'vaccine-hesitant' parents need to hear

By Aine Cryts

While the standard children's immunization schedule may sound daunting--with children receiving 24 shots by the age of two and as many as five injections during a single doctor's visit--it is is backed by evidence and supported by the Institute of Medicine.

But in addition to explaining the facts, physicians must also understand why parents question the timing of immunizations, wrote Anisa Durand, M.D., a pediatrician in Oakland, California, and a current student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, in Health Affairs.

In her practice, Durand has parents who span the spectrum: Some want to fast-track their children's immunization schedule to protect against disease and others reject the immunization regimen based on stories they've read online or their personal beliefs.

That said, most of the parents she talks to are "vaccine-hesitators" because they "sit on the fence between evidence-based recommendations from the medical community and fear mongering from the anti-vaccine movement."

Durand's three-pronged approach in her conversations with parents includes:

  • Speak with certainty. Tell parents that you recommend against waiting until their children are older, wrote Durand. The ultimate goal is to protect children while they're young and vulnerable from getting vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Explain that infants are stronger than parents think. Babies' developing immune systems fight off a number of bacteria and viruses every day, she wrote. In comparison, the vaccines they receive are miniscule.
  • Put it in perspective. Infants are far more likely to contract a serious invasive infection than older children or adults, according to Durand. Starting the vaccine schedule while children are young helps protect them when they need protection from disease the most.

By stretching out the vaccination schedule, parents are actually putting their children in a vulnerable position where they're unprotected for a longer period of time, she wrote. There's also an increased chance that children will miss out on one of the vaccines--either by mistake or by the parent's choice.

Indeed, understanding the reasons parents resist vaccines can help physicians navigate these conversations. Headline-grabbing stories--such as a recent outbreak of varicella in a primary school in Australia where as many of 25 percent of students contracted the disease after vaccinations dipped below 73 percent of the student body--can help to change the minds of skeptical parents, as previously reported in FiercePracticeManagement.

To learn more:
- check out the Institute of Medicine's research report
- read the Health Affairs article