In 2007, the CDC ranked that state of Nebraska dead last in the country for its poor rates of childhood vaccination. According to the CDC, the state vaccinated only 59.5 percent of children between the ages of 19 and 35 months. Over the past seven years, Nebraska has participated in a childhood vaccination initiative to make the state healthier. Thanks to the efforts of clinicians and community health educators, Nebraska now vaccinates 65.4 percent of children aged two and younger. Unfortunately, some parents have been given misleading information about vaccine safety, and they’re hesitant about vaccinating their children. Nationwide, 16 percent of parents are classified as “vaccine-hesitant.”
If you’re passionate about clearing up misinformation about vaccines and keeping kids safe from preventable diseases, then become a community health educator. In fact, you can click here for online programs at a Nebraska university that offer a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a community education specialization. Alternatively, if you’re already a community health educator, then you might have already encountered vaccine-hesitant parents. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) has conducted extensive research to help community health professionals identify and communicate effectively with parents who are worried about vaccine safety.
A Profile of the Vaccine-Hesitant Parent
ASTHO has created a profile of the typical vaccine-hesitant parent. The organization compiled these five common characteristics that community health educators can easily recognize:
- Educated and upper-income. Most vaccine-hesitant parents are upper-income college graduates between the ages of 30 and 45.
- Highly health-conscious. These parents are likely to eat a high proportion of organic foods and to place a high priority on environmental responsibility.
- Highly engaged. The typical vaccine-hesitant parent reads a lot of information about both parenting and health. These parents participate in online forums and engage with other parents in support groups or through “Mommy blog” comments.
- Frustrated with pediatricians. Only two-thirds of all parents say that pediatricians spend enough time explaining vaccination and vaccine safety. These parents are most likely to feel frustrated that their pediatricians haven’t spent enough time on the issue.
- Worried. Top concerns for vaccine-hesitant parents include the safety of administering multiple vaccines at once and how their children are progressing against published developmental norms.
From Vaccine-Hesitant to Vaccine-Positive
According to ASTHO and other childhood health experts, you should prioritize these messages when communicating with vaccine-hesitant parents:
“It’s Your Choice. Get the Facts.” ASTHO designed this slogan to help parents feel empowered. Tell parents that they’re making a good decision to vaccinate their children.
- Emphasize risks of not vaccinating. Avoid throwing out statistics about vaccine safety, such as the fact that only 1 in 1 million kids experience side effects. Instead, talk about what happens to children when people don’t vaccinate. Since vaccine-hesitant parents are often highly community-oriented, tap into their community spirit by explaining the value of herd immunity.
- Offer facts to offset fears. Be prepared to debunk the infamous Lancet study (which the journal later retracted) linking MMR vaccine and autism. Explain that multiple vaccines administered at once do not overwhelm the immune system, and let parents know that childhood vaccines in the U.S. no longer contain thimerosal as a preservative.
- Explain the price of natural immunity. Although naturally derived immunity may be slightly superior to vaccination, natural immunity could come at a harmful and potentially fatal price. Use this quote provided by the World Health Organization: “The price paid for immunity after natural infection might be pneumonia from chickenpox, mental retardation from Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), pneumonia from pneumococcus, birth defects from rubella, liver cancer from hepatitis B virus or death from measles.”
- Send them to their providers. Vaccine-hesitant parents, despite their expressed frustrations about the lack of information from pediatricians about vaccines, still rate conversations with providers as their most important source of information. Direct a concerned parent to talk to his or her pediatrician about vaccine safety.
Vaccine-hesitant parents want to do what’s best for their children. Emphasize that health educators and organization like the American Academy of Pediatrics aren’t just faceless groups; they’re also parents who’ve chosen to vaccinate their children. The best ways to combat misinformation about vaccines are to spend time with concerned parents, empower them to choose and produce facts that will guide them toward the benefits of vaccination.