Pro-Vaccine Communication: You’re Doing It Wrong

A study published in early 2014 in the journal Pediatrics revealed that public health messages aimed at boosting vaccination rates were having the opposite effect. Simply put, facts and evidence aren’t all that persuasive to anti-vaccine advocates who are already suspicious of government claims. A group that believes the government is covering up the harm that vaccines do is hardly going to believe a message, sponsored by the government, telling them to do the very thing they think the government is trying to coerce them to do. From Austin, TX to Chicago, IL and everywhere in between, the conversation about vaccines needs to change if the medical community wants vaccination rates to increase.

Communicating the effectiveness and safety of vaccines is as much about convincing individuals on an emotional level as it is about spreading facts. Parents need to trust their pediatricians, not their government, if we want them to vaccinate their children and that trust must be built on an emotional, personal level. It is time for doctors to start communicating effectively about the benefits and risks of vaccines in a way that parents can trust.

Quelling Fear

The images associated with vaccinations are almost always negative. They include things like screaming children, needles, sterile medical environments, and occasionally images of disease-addled children. More effective communication would include images of post-vaccine happy, healthy children. Parents don’t want to see the diseases they are trying to avoid, they want to see the healthy children they are attempting to raise. After all, you catch more flies with honey, so put these tips into action when displaying images.

.   Use images of happy, healthy, smiling children and families.

.   Use scientifically accurate diagrams.

.   Avoid images that contain needles.

.   Avoid images of unhappy, screaming, crying children.

.   Use interesting, appealing artwork of viruses and how vaccines work at a molecular level.

.   Use stats from the past and show the difference that vaccines have made in common, life-threatening illness trends.

Gentle Verbal Communication

Chastising a parent for foregoing vaccinations is always a mistake. People like to be praised, not chastised, so praise the parents who are wary of vaccines for their concern about their children. Then, if they choose not to vaccinate, carefully explain to them why they can no longer be a part of your practice. Be sure to include the explanation that not everyone responds to vaccines that protecting those individuals from patients who may carry disease because their parents choose not to have them vaccinated is part of your responsibility as a health care provider.

Parents who are adamantly against vaccinations will never be swayed, so don’t waste your time. Show them the door and move on to the parents who are concerned about vaccinations, but who are looking for more information. These parents respond well to truthful guidance and to options. Let them know what options they have when it comes to vaccinations and put them in touch with other parents who have vaccinated their children and are willing to talk about the experience. You can present evidence to them, but appeal more to their emotions. Explain why you would vaccinate in their situation, why you think it is safe, and why vaccines are as important to health as nutrition (e.g. breastfeeding). Make it clear that some vaccines are more important than others.

Brining It Home

The most important thing pediatricians can do is set aside adequate time to talk about vaccines. This can be hard to accomplish in a busy practice, so consider an evening event where patients can talk to you, both in groups and one-on-one, about their concerns. The more time you spend with parents and their children, the more likely they are to trust your judgement.

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