Q: What do parents often say to you about why they are hesitant to have their children vaccinated?
Most often parents will say they have heard about the controversy over vaccines. Sometimes the parents will tell you it’s against their religion, or simply a “we do not vaccinate.”
Q: How do you explain vaccines to hesitant parents?
I always start with open-ended questions to find out their concerns, so I can target my counseling. Starting with general questions such as “What are your concerns?” or “What are your vaccine plans?” can help you to also find out if they are open to discussion or unlikely to change their minds. If they are open to discussion, I have a few CDC vaccine FAQ pages and handouts I will print out for them and explain to them these vaccines are very safe and very effective. And explain that these vaccines have been given to millions of children for years and years and protect against scary diseases. I will tell the family they can always ask me more questions and we can continue the discussion, and I am willing to work with them on a modified schedule and prioritize vaccines that protect against scarier diseases. If they are very adamant that their family does not vaccinate, I may just provide them the CDC handouts and tell them I am always here for questions.
"I always start with open-ended questions to find out their concerns, so I can target my counseling."
Jane Lyons, MD
Dignity Health - St. Joseph's
Q: Which vaccines are parents most hesitant about getting for their children?
COVID19, influenza, HPV.
Q: What sources of information do parents often use to learn about vaccines?
Word of mouth.
Q: What advice do you have for primary care physicians whose patients question a vaccine?
I recommend always starting with open ended questions to help you target your counseling, and to find out if the family is even willing to discuss or consider some or all vaccines. I do not believe in dismissing vaccine refusal families from your practice, as there are some families that do eventually agree to at least some vaccines and providing primary care to families is not only about vaccinations. By maintaining the therapeutic relationship, I can continue to monitor the child’s growth and development, provide care in all other aspects of their health, and prevent the family from either not obtaining any healthcare for their child or seeking out an alternative provider who may reinforce or provide additional misinformation.
Q: Are there policy changes you recommend for vaccines?
I would love to see more public health campaigns over basic health issues such as vaccines, and viral illnesses/the cold (to help combat overuse of antibiotic resistance and overuse of emergency medical care for non-emergent issues). Vaccine skepticism is widespread and without a scientific basis, and most often families have their information from family and friends, so it is very hard to combat that.