Vaccine Information Statements
The first step in educating parents about any vaccine to be given to a child is distribution of the Vaccine Information Statements (VISs). We are familiar with VISs as those one-page flyers produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explaining the benefits and risks of a vaccine.  As we know, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) of 1986 requires that VISs be provided to parents or patients before administering each dose of the vaccines listed in the schedule. Therefore, VISs help fulfill two important goals for any pediatric practice: patient education and good risk/practice management.  

VISs can be found at CDC Vaccine Information Statements.  Additionally, pediatricians can even download a copy to a parent’s mobile device following directions at the CDC website. Non-English versions are available through the Immunization Action Coalition.

Have a Positive, Relaxed Attitude
I do encounter a lot of physicians who believe that if parents are not going to elect vaccination for their children, they should seek care with another practice. It takes a lot of time to engage parents in discussion over vaccines. This can be difficult, especially with time-limited appointments.  Yet, if anyone has the responsibility to educate parents of the need for and safety of vaccines, we do.  It does us – and the children – no good to simply dismiss parents from the practice if they are reluctant or refuse vaccination for their kids.

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Additionally, avoid confrontation and debate.  Everyone has his or her own communication style. However, it is always unproductive to get into a debate with concerned parents.  We as pediatricians can get very set in our ways around vaccination.  We may feel that our opinions are based on scientifically accurate information and can be impatient or dismissive regarding parents’ concerns regarding vaccines.  

It is best to sit in a place of respect for the parents’ fears and questions related to their children. Accept the reality that people ARE questioning vaccines, they deserve answers, and it is our job to give them the right answers to the best of our ability.

A calm approach is much more successful than dictating or, worse yet, taking an irritated or aggressive tone.  We do not want to alienate people who are only advocating for their children. An aggressive/dismissive approach almost verifies some parents’ beliefs that something must be wrong with vaccines if the pediatricians do not even want to have a conversation about them.

Doctors should avoid that kind of attitude at all costs.  Engage in conversation, stress the positive, try to be persuasive, and stay on concrete facts.

Provide Scientifically-Backed Information
Remember that parents who are concerned about vaccinating their children are anxious and fearful for their children’s safety.  Most do not have access to the medical literature we know so well – or if they do, they may not know how to detect legitimate information from inflammatory or biased sources or anecdotal stories.  This is not their fault and parents should not be abraded for believing them.  

Again, it is our job to give parents the information they need in a manner where they feel heard and not bullied.

In my practice, we have a few strategies to start educating the parent even while they wait in the well-baby room. There we place posters about vaccination and how it works.  Then when they get to the exam room, we have wall posters, handouts, news headlines, etc. informing parents more about the vaccines and why they are needed and safe.

I keep a file of vaccine information that I continually update. I often bring that whole three-inch file into my office containing articles from Newsweek, scientific magazines, the journal Pediatrics, and others. I give it to the parent and ask them to look at it. I will leave to see other patients and then come back.  This gives them time to review some of the information in print, instead of just through me. If they are still hesitant, I also tell them to think about it.  I will call them the next week and we can discuss it again then.  

This kind of educational process may take a little time but it can also shorten the face-to-face time when the schedule is full – and it always is.  

Some time-saving suggestions:

  •     Display vaccination posters and educational pamphlets in waiting rooms, especially the well-baby room.
  •     Consider preparing educational documents to give to hesitant parents.  
            -a binder with various information (articles) in it,
            -a typed letter about the science you know and feel secure with and why you support vaccines. 
  •     Provide information to reliable websites.  Giving parents these websites versus those that contain misinformation or are patently anti-vaccine helps avoid the anecdotes and stories that do not provide cause-and-effect, scientifically-based information.  Excellent examples are provided below.