Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy: What Advice Would You Give Your Pediatrician?
Apr 17, 2012

Later this week, I will have the privilege of speaking with a group of pediatricians about the topic of vaccine hesitancy.  While it’s not a subject that is new to any pediatrician, it continues to be an area that they are concerned about.  Although there are some doctors who refuse to see patients who remain unvaccinated, and others like Dr. Bob Sears who prefer to accommodate parental hesitancy by suggesting that unvaccinated patients will still be protected by the benefits of herd immunity, there are plenty of doctors who are committed to helping parents overcome vaccine hesitancy and ensure parents are comfortable with their decision to vaccinate their children.

It’s evident that pediatricians often play a critical role in helping to ensure that parents are informed about the recommended immunizations for their children and are encouraged to keep their children on schedule.  And I imagine that every pediatrician feels a responsibility to keep their patients safe and healthy.  However, it’s understandable that they may each differ in their approach. But with the popularity of the internet and social media, today’s parents are often seeking information and advice about immunization long before they have a face to face conversation with their pediatrician.
This can be a challenge.  Parents can easily fall prey to anecdotal stories that instill fear, as we often see with the recurring suggestions of those who adamantly believe in a vaccine/autism link, despite the fact that no such link has ever been scientifically supported.   It’s also common to see evidence of vaccine biases on websites that sell homeopathic remedies for ailments they claim are caused by vaccines.  And it’s likely that some parents are unaware of, or unable to adequately understand, the abundance of scientific research that supports the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Therefore, it’s nearly impossible for pediatricians to anticipate exactly what is influencing parental hesitancy about vaccines.  And it’s even more difficult for pediatricians to determine the best way for them to address parental concerns.
But that is exactly why I’m writing this post.
As a parent myself, I know the types of questions I have asked and the ways in which I would prefer for my pediatrician to respond.  But what advice would you give?  How can health care providers effectively ease parental concerns regarding infant immunizations?  Should they be prepared to reference and explain the latest studies?  Should they share personal stories of vaccine preventable diseases that they have witnessed in their own practice?  Should they elaborate on the process by which vaccines are extensively tested and monitored for safety?
What are your thoughts?
Share them with me and I will try to incorporate them into my upcoming presentation.  After all, while parents often rely on their pediatrician’s expertise and advice, pediatricians are also relying on the understanding and cooperation of parents.  I’m sure we could all benefit from a courteous discussion pertaining to vaccine hesitancy – especially among the diverse group of parents we often see contributing to the immunization conversations on both the Shot of Prevention blog and our Vaccinate Your Facebook page.   So let me hear what you have to say and ask your friends to contribute their comments as well.  It would be especially helpful to hear from people who had been reluctant to vaccinate but who had doctors who helped address their concerns.  The more discussion we generate, the more I will have to offer up to these interested and concerned pediatricians.

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