Helping Parents Navigate Immunization Information on the Internet
I have a young friend who had her first child two months ago. We had been trying to get together for lunch the week she delivered her baby. Yesterday, as we were texting one another, trying to reschedule, she explained that she was at the doctor with the baby for her well-check and a round of shots.
I didn’t even have to hear her voice to know the angst she might be feeling. Yes. Even parents who know the benefit of vaccines are not too keen on watching a needle go into their newborn baby. And what’s worse is hearing them cry.
So I quickly sent her some words of encouragement, and I acknowledged that she should be very proud of what she was doing to protect her baby. The more I thought about it, the more I thought …. parents don’t get applauded for their vaccination decisions often enough.
Hearing, Seeing and Believing
No matter how convinced a parent is about the importance of immunizations, they are probably somewhat familiar with the arguments of the vaccine critics. Whether it comes in the form of a news story they read, a parent in their local play group, or even a complete stranger on the internet, they will inevitably hear someone attributing various chronic health problems to vaccines. Or someone who shares a story of an alleged vaccine injury. Or someone who simply believes it’s better to allow our immune system to fight off diseases “naturally”.
It’s only human nature that these stories come rushing to the forefront at the exact moment the nurse is prepping the needle. As they hear the cries from their once happy child, it’s understandable that parents experience a bit of uncertainty and doubt. And let’s be honest. For a first time parent, dealing with their first round of shots, this is all quite nerve-raking.
Yet, from the healthcare provider’s point of view, vaccinations are fairly routine. They know how devastating these diseases can be. They recognize how effective vaccines are in protecting children. And they realize that these safe, well-tested vaccines offer minimal risk of serious side effects. So while they are available to address parental concerns, there is probably not adequate time during the office visit for a doctor or nurse to help parents understand all the science and safety behind the immunizations that is necessary to put them at ease.
This is why parents often find themselves in front of a computer googling well into the night. Many times they are looking for answers to questions they hadn’t thought about at the time of the visit. This is also when I hope parents are educated enough to understand how to evaluate health information on the internet. Hopefully, they recognize the important differences between a website that offers well-documented, scientifically based immunization information, versus those websites that cherry pick information from outdated research, while also selling books, supplements and crazy conspiracy theories.
Getting Parents the Information They Need
One of the resources I often recommend to parents is the Vaccine Education Center of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They provide complete, up-to-date and reliable information about vaccines to parents in the form of videos, informational tear sheets, and information on every vaccine. The site is helpful for parents who want to understand how vaccines work, how they are made, who recommends vaccines, when they should be given, if they are still necessary, and, most importantly, if they are safe.
It’s also important for parents to stay up to date on immunization news. This can be done by signing up for the Vaccine Education Center’s monthly Parents PACK newsletter, by checking the daily news clips on the Vaccinate Your Baby website, or by liking the Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page.
A quick look just yesterday revealed several articles that I plan on sharing with my young friend.
First, there was a report that revealed that whooping cough cases in the U.S. this year are the highest they’ve been since 1959. Then another article with the encouraging news that 44% of pregnant women received a whooping cough booster shot in the last two months. Since I know that my friend got her Tdap booster in the hospital, these articles will simply help to reinforce the decisions she has made to immunize herself and her baby.
There has even been some news regarding ways in which we may be able to help ease the discomfort of shots in children. For young babies there is something known as the 5 S’s technique, which Dr. Swanson explains in great detail on her blog Seattle Mama Doc. Then yesterday I read about some new research findings that suggest a sugar solution given just prior to the injection can help calm babies faster. And just this morning I came across this little gem “Buzzy”. A cold, vibrating pod, designed by a mom to look and sound like a really big bee, which helps take the sting out of shots. I expect these articles to also be of interest to my friend.
The reality is that as long as vaccination remains a choice, there will be some parents who choose not to vaccinate. However, we should be grateful that the overwhelming majority of parents do vaccinate , and we must do our best to applaud these parents and ensure they get the credible information they need to continue with their decision to vaccinate.