The Art of Science: How to Communicate the Value of Vaccines

For physicians, vaccines seem like any easy choice. Backed by science, they are proven, safe, and effective with minuscule chance of negative side effects. Yet, some parents still have concerns and a genuine opposition. To dispel such fears, physicians must be able to effectively communicate the value of vaccines to their patients and parents. 

Today, a new generation of parents that did not grow up with the threat of preventable diseases may be mistakenly equipped with myths and misconceptions about vaccine side effects. While some parents only need reassurance from a pediatrician, others need to be more strongly convinced in order to get their child vaccinated. In these cases, pediatricians are presented with a difficult conversation on a topic that to them may seem straightforward.

With an increasing number of parents choosing to delay or not vaccinate at all, an increased focus has been placed on these one-on-one conversations. Medical schools including, The University of Pennsylvania Medical School, The School of Medicine at USC San Diego and Vanderbilt University have begun incorporating coursework preparing future doctors for the tough vaccine conversation. By going through every possible scenario, the medical students learn how not to patronize parents, and instead engage and address their specific concerns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are also doing their part to aid providers. They offer multiple resources helping physicians address parents’ needs and respond accordingly.

These classes and resources offer different approaches to how pediatricians can handle the vaccine conversations, but a few consistencies remain. When faced with a discussion with vaccine-resistant parents, providers should:

  • Listen: Find out what the specific cause of their concern is before addressing the facts. By hearing a parent’s concerns, physicians can accurately address each point.

  • Foster a sense of trust: Building a strong relationship is key to successful communication. Parents want to know that their child is in good hands and not just another appointment throughout the day.

  • Be assertive: Simply sharing research is not enough. In addition to listening and addressing parent’s resistance, share your owns concerns and beliefs if the parents would like to delay or forgo vaccines.

Although the choice may seem obvious to those in the medical field, mastering the vaccine conversation is an important aspect of caring for children. By effectively communicating—listening, instilling trust, and sharing the facts—physicians can truly help parents understand the value of vaccines, and subsequently keep their children healthy.