Do You Believe in Vaccines? (Part I: Emotion)
Dec 15, 2010

This article was written by Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP and originally posted on the Seattle Mama Doc blog on Nov. 29, 2010 .  As a board-certified, practicing pediatrician, blogger, freelance writer, and mother to two young boys, Dr. Swanson elicited responses from many prominent doctors to the question “Do You Believe in Vaccines?”.  In an effort to help our Shot of Prevention readers to gain further insight into the value of vaccines, as witnessed by those working in the field of medicine, she has graciously granted us permission to reprint the entire 3 part series, beginning with today’s post – Part I: Emotion.
I wrote 33 pediatricians an e-mail asking what they would say, while in line for coffee, to the parent of a newborn when asked if they “believed in vaccines.” I wrote the e-mail not as a gimmick or a way to frame the issue of vaccine hesitancy, but because this happened to me. Rather, this happens to me. Often. When a new father asked me this question while carrying his newborn baby 2 weeks ago, I told him what I thought. I then ruminated about my response for 24+ hours and wrote a group of colleagues. How do we talk with parents we don’t know, outside of the exam room, to help them understand why we feel so strongly about protecting children with vaccines?
I’m not a believer in scripts. I’m not attempting to suggest there is one, 2 minute segment for every family that will help. I wanted to hear what these expert pediatricians would say to get a sense of their collective insight. I wanted you to see it, as well. I want to be really good at my job as a pediatrician when helping families understand the science, the evidence, and the emotion behind raising healthy kids and preventing illness with vaccines.
But I also really want families to understand why pediatricians work so hard to vaccinate children. I don’t want to increase the divide between those parents who are worried or skeptical of the possible harms of immunization, and those parents, doctors, and experts and who believe in the benefits. Rather, I want to regain our similarities.
We are all so similar.
We all want to do what is right for our children. That’s why everyone is so nuts about this. Simply stated, we all care immensely.
This was confirmed when I wrote docs from all parts of the US.
I got over 20 responses.
I’ve arranged these pediatricians’ thoughts based on how I experienced their comments:

  • Emotional
  • Evidenced
  • Experienced

These thoughts are not mutually exclusive; you’ll hear evidence in the emotional comments, experience in the evidenced ones, and emotion in the experienced ones. Today’s post includes responses that felt emotional.
As I said in the video, it isn’t just parents who are emotional about vaccines. Read the comments to that post and you’ll see—some 30+ comments, mostly written by pediatricians, full of energy, data, and emotion. Pediatricians (and scientists/public health experts) are ultimately responsible for improving the way families understand immunizations. So this is weighty.
Most of these doctors wrote me about listening more than about talking. But here’s some of what they said:
To read the remainder of this post, click here.  You will be redirected to Dr. Swanson’s original piece.  Feel free to include your comments on Seattle Mama Doc, or here on Shot of Prevention. 

Dr. Swanson’s background includes a degree in psychology from Kenyon College, two years teaching middle-school bilingual science and math in Oakland, Calif., with Teach For America, an MD and MBE (Master’s in Bioethics) at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and a pediatric residency at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Swanson maintains a busy pediatric practice and writes Seattle Mama Doc, the first pediatrician-authored blog for a major children’s hospital. She is on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine and contributes to the publication regularly. She is also an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and remains active on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. By using both social and traditional media outlets, she illustrates how a growing community of healthcare providers and patients can help bring science to the forefront. 

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