Helping Parents Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy
May 17, 2013

momandchildEarlier this week I was privy to a conversation in which a parent was expressing her concerns about her child’s upcoming immunization appointment. Admittedly, she was hesitant.  She had rejected vaccines in the past, but recently decided to take her children in for their missed immunizations.

However, in the days prior to the appointment, she couldn’t help but worry about her lingering fears.  As she reached out to a group of women in an online forum, I witnessed the importance of honesty, compassion and education in responding to vaccine hesitancy.

A Caring Community Responds

I was so impressed by the way in which this small community of women responded to this mother’s concern.  They did not belittle her, despite the fact that many of her concerns were straight out of an anti-vaccine playbook.  Instead, they took the time to address each concern respectfully.  They countered the suggestion that “Big Pharma is out to get us” with an abundance of evidence and research.  When raising the concern about “toxins”, there was an intelligent discussion of chemistry and biology (and the concern that many people are not well educated on these two topics and fail to understand the ingredients in vaccines and how they work safely to generate an effective immune response).
It helped for this parent to be able to talk openly to such a supportive group.  And even though she had come to understand the benefit of getting her children vaccinated, she was frustrated that the many unsubstantiated claims of vaccine injury that she had read on the internet had left her feeling as though something bad might happen.   But she was reminded that fear and doubt is the premise behind the anti-vaccine initiative.  In the end, she realized that when the evidence is objectively evaluated, we see a much greater risk of injury from the diseases than from any vaccine.  And it’s only after we look at the science are we able to respond more rationally to our emotionally driven doubts.
Since education is an effective way to overcome fear and build confidence, these parents knew how important it was to suggest resources that could effectively address the most common vaccine related questions and concerns.

Valuable Resources for Vaccine Education

For instance, one woman suggested that she investigate a fairly new resource  entitled “Vaccine Safety and Your Child“, which is an excerpt from Vaccines and Your Child, by Paul A. Offit, M.D., F.A.A.P., and Charlotte A. Moser.  This booklet covers general questions about vaccine safety, the vaccine schedule and provides details about vaccine ingredients and whether vaccines cause chronic disease, autism, allergies, asthma, cancer, diabetes, GBS or SIDS.  It is available in both English and Spanish and can be viewed (or printed) from the Vaccine Education Center website or ordered for $1/booklet plus shipping here.

Another great resource, entitled Understanding Vaccines:  What They Are, How They Work, is a 59 page booklet that has been made available by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. It goes into great detail about the way in which vaccines work, including a detailed explanation of antigens, T cells, B cells and adjuvants.  There is a chapter devoted to understanding the difference between live, attenuated vaccines, inactivated vaccines, toxoid vaccines, subunit vaccines, conjugate vaccines, DNA vaccines and recombinant vaccines.  It’s an excellent reference to share with people who are looking for a preliminary understanding of vaccine science as well as someone who is looking to investigate the safety and research conducted on vaccines.

There is also a 52-page book entitled The History of Vaccines, which was created on behalf of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.  It covers the birth of vaccination in the late 1700s, the influences of the bacteriological revolution of the late 1800s, and the flourishing of vaccinology into the 21st century. It is a visually engaging resource that is targeted to teenagers and high school science, health, and history classes but it is absolutely essential information to everyone seeking knowledge of vaccines.  It is just one of the many resources available to educators from The History of Vaccines site and is available for purchase from for $9.99.

Stories of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Certainly it’s encouraging that people are sharing these resources widely.  However, because fear of the minuscule risk of adverse effects from vaccines has been so well exaggerated by those strongly opposed to vaccines, it’s important that we continue to highlight the true risks of the diseases themselves.  Stories of vaccine preventable diseases, such as those highlighted on Vaccinate Your Family, Shot By Shot or in blogs like KC Kids Doc with their recent personal account of a harrowing tale of diphtheria, are just as important to share with vaccine hesitant parents as the safety studies and science behind vaccines.

Thanks to successful immunization programs, many parents these days are not familiar with the risks of these diseases.  Keeping them informed of what we are so fortunate not to have to worry about is a critical part of vaccine education.  In fact, it is the part that I find most motivating.  Because thanks to vaccines, many people have been spared disease, disability and even death.

Sadly, this week we see a new case of polio in Somalia, an ongoing measles epidemic in Wales with over 1200 cases and rising concerns about mumpsrubella and cases of measles elsewhere. (Note from Vaccinate Your Family: There are currently cases of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S.)  The point is that it may not be your child who is suffering with a vaccine preventable disease today, but it could be tomorrow.

If you have a story to share about a personal experience with a vaccine preventable disease, please contact us at and help us to educate others about the real risks diseases and the benefits of vaccines.  And if please feel free to share a list of your own favorite resources so that we can all do our part to help others overcome their vaccine hesitancy.

Visit Vaccinate Your Family’s website for the latest information and resources on vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

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