More and more states and school districts are strengthening their vaccine policies in the wake of several outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in recent years. Healthcare providers should be mindful of supporting parents, even if they first appear to be reluctant to vaccinate their children. Here are some strategies to keep the conversation open and get parents to decide in favor of vaccination.
The majority of parents in the United States support vaccinations, but some will still have questions. Before assuming their motivations behind questioning adherence to the recommended schedule, make the time to listen to them, and answer their questions honestly and calmly.
Encouraging Vaccine Compliance
Build trust. Listen carefully to what questions parents are asking, and provide balanced answers. If parents are confused about vaccine safety or side effects, be sure to give them correct information while acknowledging that their feelings of concern are valid. Remind parents that vaccines are safe, they prevent potentially serious diseases, and not vaccinating carries serious risks for their children.
Use anecdotes as well as science. Some parents will be reassured by the science that overwhelmingly supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Other parents will want personal stories about why they should vaccinate. Healthcare providers can mention their own experience vaccinating their children, or use anecdotes from the healthcare practice. For example, mention that in the thousands of shots administered, the most serious side effects reported to you have been soreness at the injection site or a mild fever.
Don’t take it personally. Parents who express concern about vaccination aren’t trying to challenge or offend you! They truly want to do what is best for their children, and with the overwhelming amount of information available to them, it can be difficult to parse what that is. They are asking you questions because they are depending on you to reassure them, provide the correct information, and keep communications open.
Use authority to your advantage. Parents respond better to what is called the presumptive approach, rather than a participatory approach. When it is stated what types of vaccines the child is to receive at a well-child visit, most parents accept immunization. Parents trust in the expertise of their children’s healthcare providers.
Remember the goal: Healthy children
Regardless of the approaches you use when speaking about vaccinations with parents, you both have a common goal. Parents and healthcare providers want children to be healthy and thriving. Success doesn’t mean imposing your will over a parent’s wishes, but to seek understanding of their concerns. Give them the information that supports vaccination, and give them the time to ask questions and get answers. Reassure them that vaccinations are in their children’s best interest, as well as in the best interest of the community in which they live.
For more information about effective communications, see the materials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website. For healthcare students, using scenarios with simulated participants and simulated medications can be a good way to practice this difficult and vital conversations.