Dr. Kenneth Haller, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, gave a talk on vaccine hesitancy in parents this summer. Though the talk itself was targeted toward doctors, there are lots of lessons parents and caregivers can take away regarding vaccine safety and hesitancy. Here are the top questions Dr. Haller addresses in his talk.
How do vaccines work?
Most vaccines work by injecting small parts of a microorganism (virus or bacteria) into a child. When these parts get into the body, the immune system recognizes them as foreign and white blood cells put up a biological “wanted poster” so the body knows to attack them in the future.
Why do doctors give vaccines to kids?
There are a few reasons why vaccines are given at such an early age. One is that it’s good to be proactive, and the vaccines given at early ages are proven to be safe for kids. Another reason is that the diseases being targeted can be deadly if caught by children. They are also given to kids because of state and local jurisdictions that decide which vaccines are required for entry to daycare and school and when they are required. These are not picked randomly but are based on the consensus of representatives from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Why do some parents refuse vaccines?
The three main reasons parents refuse vaccines are confidence, complacency and convenience.
Confidence simply means that the parents don’t trust vaccines. This could be because of misinformation or studies that confuse correlation with causation.
Complacency points toward the fact that a lot of the diseases we vaccinate against aren’t very common anymore, so some parents wonder what the point of vaccinating against them is.
Convenience has to do with how easy it is for parents to get their children certain vaccines.
There are also other relevant factors such as poor risk assessment, the effectiveness of anti-vaccine rhetoric, the poor rhetoric of doctors who focus on statistics instead of emotions and hostility between parents and doctors.
He advocates for more listening, empathy and conversation on the part of doctors dealing with parents that have vaccine hesitancy. Many doctors will begin conversations with “If you cared about the safety of your child…” which assumes that a parent doesn’t already care. It is better to make the assumption that parents do care about the safety of their children, and begin the conversation from a place of empathy with that fact in mind.
What about the COVID-19 vaccine?
Many people don’t realize that the advanced technology used to create the vaccine quickly has been developed for a decade. This is just the first time it has been used. Studies have shown that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that many people are willing to get it if it means keeping their family safe.
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