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Communicating with Vaccine Skeptics
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Vaccine creator and pediatric ID expert Paul Offit sits down with Neda and Sol to discuss the process of vaccine creation and the approach to the vaccine skeptical parent.
It is understandable that parents are questioning vaccines now given that they do not encounter the effects of these infections in their day to day life.
The role of the clinician is to make the consequences of vaccine preventable diseases real for parents so that they can understand how truly scary they are.
Why might parents be skeptical of vaccines? Parents are no longer scared of the diseases that vaccines aim to protect children from. In comparison to the twenties and thirties, when children were dying from diphtheria or becoming disabled from polio, this generation of parents have not seen firsthand the effects of these infections. As practitioners, we are asking parents to vaccinate their children against 14 different diseases in the first year of life to prevent diseases that most people do not see, using biological fluids that most people do not understand. With these facts in mind, Dr. Offit underscores is reasonable it is for parents to be skeptical.
What can practitioners do when faced with a vaccine skeptical parent? The first thing to do when you see someone who is hesitant about vaccines is to ask them what they are scared of. If there is a specific issue, be it autism, diabetes or multiple sclerosis, there likely will be data to answer those questions. As the clinician, you try to present the data in a compelling, passionate, and compassionate way. As Dr. Offit says, science alone is not good enough. It is also important to make people realize that the choice not to vaccinate is not a risk free choice. By referring to parent activist groups like Families Fighting Flu or National Meningitis Association, you can provide parents with examples of the very serious risk associated with not vaccinating.
What is Dr. Offit’s approach to dealing with a parent that is unsure about vaccines? The way that Dr. Offit goes about it is as follows: he finds out what the parent is worried about, tries to go through how one would answer those question, he talks about what has been done to answer those questions and ends by emphasizing why it is important to vaccinate. He makes it personal, making sure that the parent knows that he has his own children that are fully vaccinated and says that vaccinating is a matter of loving the child. He tells parents that by not vaccinating their child, the parent is asking him to practice substandard care.
Why might parents continue to believe that autism is linked to the MMR vaccine? As Dr. Offit explains, if you are a parent of a child that suffers from autism, you want to try and figure out why. What Andrew Wakefield offered was a reason why; in his explanation it was the vaccine that caused the development of autism. With this explanation, parents were allowed some control over the disease. For example, parents believed that they could control whether or not their future children developed autism but choosing not to vaccinate them. As practitioners we can say things like vaccines are good and vaccine protect against preventable disease but what we still cannot say is what causes autism and parents want that explanation.
- How can practitioners advocate for their patients? Say something. It is important for clinicians to speak up when they see misinformation being presented because these false claims are devaluing the truth of science.