Doctors Can Make the Difference.
Jun 08, 2010

By Christine Vara
My last post left me a bit disillusioned.  Do we really need to exploit the tragic stories of families who have lost their children to vaccine preventable diseases in order for vaccine reluctant patients to reconsider their choices?  There must be another way….
I spent a few days pondering this sad situation, while also reviewing responses to my post.  The comments were encouraging.  We must continue to educate.  If fear is a motivating factor in choosing to vaccinate or not, than we need to accept that fact and use it to generate the response we are looking for. Overall, the comments were caring, considerate and noteworthy. 
That’s when it suddenly dawned on me.  I was lying in bed at the time, trying to get my mind off of the many things I should have been doing rather than sleeping, when I found myself thinking about my children and their fears.  Fear of not making the soccer team.  Fear that they were going to embarrass themselves at the school talent show.  Fear of performing poorly on their school achievement tests. With five children let me just say there is more than enough fear to keep mom up at night.   As a parent, I feel it is my job to help my children overcome their fears, while building their confidence and preparing them for the never-ending challenges of life.   (OK- so perhaps you think I have digressed with my parent talk, but remember, this is my pre-slumber mind racing.)  And that’s when it occurred to me. 
As their mother, I have a special relationship with my children. My words, my actions and my genuine concern for them are all things that help them to overcome their fear.  They know I would never do anything to hurt them.  They trust me to take care of them.  They understand that I want to help them.     
Suddenly I realized the value of a similar relationship between doctors and patients which could ultimately make the difference in helping people to overcome their vaccine related fears.   Just as parents help their children, so can doctors provide valuable guidance to their patients.  Patients just need to feel confident in their physicians.  They must trust them and communicate with them. 
Take for instance those people who commented on my post.  They represent doctors and health advocates whom we should trust to be informed, educated and acting in our best interest.  Even as we encourage parents to reference reputable resources on the internet, I believe that the face to face interaction with a doctor can be a crucial part of vaccine education and awareness.  Doctors who are understanding of parental concerns and take the time to address them should be commended. 
Ultimately it is our doctors, nurses and various health care professionals that suggest vaccinations.  But what is there response when the patient refuses?  They can present the facts.  They can advise of the risks in not vaccinating.  They can overcome the misconceptions and reduce the fear.  They may even find that there are times when fear is the motivating factor.  Each interaction calls for a different set of responses, depending on the situation at hand.  Of course, it takes time and compassion to address patients on such a personal level.  However, in doing so I believe that physicians could be very effective in endorsing immunization for infants, as well as adults and adolescents. 
Of course, we can’t rely on these doctors alone. In order for people to understand the research behind vaccines and the effectiveness of immunizations, we must support our health professionals.  That’s where we must commit to promoting effective public service campaigns, responsible media coverage and excellent health care so that we can motivate people to immunize without having to cultivate fear.    
I may not have discovered the entire solution, but at least I am encouraged now.  The doctors can make the difference … and now maybe I can get some sleep.

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3 responses to “Doctors Can Make the Difference.”

  1. Thank you very much for your excellent commentary, though please do not think that families involved in vaccine issues feel exploited. We lend our stories as adjuncts to the medical information provided by physicians and nurses. Our stories put a human face on medical information and can sometimes be the factor that influences parents to choose vaccination for their children. We were asked to enter the “discussion” as a counter-weight to the stories offerd by anti-vaccine groups.

  2. amy pisani - every child by two says:

    Janice, thank you so much for what you are doing – the fact that you were willing to put your face on the horror of polio meant so much to me as a vaccine advocate. I read your book last year and it really hit a chord. I’m linking our readers to your book since you are clearly too humble to have mentioned it!

  3. Virginia Ped says:

    The unfortunate situation is that many parents show up for their child’s well visits with deep set prejudices against vaccines. I am a pediatrician in the trenches of a community that has equal parts superconservative God>Science and supergranola Natural>Science – and I spend hours and hours trying to educate these parents on the truth about vaccines. Sometimes I use fear – I love the University of Texas book about Vaccine Preventable Diseases – however – often times parents react to any messages I might send of fear and danger with more suspicion and emotional defiance.
    I find the best way to advocate for the health of the child is to discuss the research that has been done, and to try to present myself as someone who cares about the family. It is extremely difficult to deal with parents who don’t want to listen to what I have to say. I can only hope that we will continue to fill up the internet with voices of parents who are pro-vaccines to outweigh the non-believers.
    In our current society, parents listen to other parents more than they listen to doctors.

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